Big Jay McNeely and the Mighty Reapers
ABC records. Available on CD and cassette
The Big Jay McNeely Show can be seen on Thursday, June 6, at the Old Lion Hotel, Adelaide; Friday, June 7, at the Birkenhead Point Tavern, Sydney; Saturday, June 8, at the Gold Coast Jazz and Blues Festival, Surfers Paradise; Sunday, June 9, at the Paddington RSL Club, Sydney
Reviewed by Norm Dixon
"The master blaster", "The Go! Go! Go! man", "The deacon of the tenor sax", "California's hottest showman-saxophonist", "The greatest jazz artist since Louis Armstrong" — these are some of the titles that the wild man of the r&b saxophone, Big Jay McNeely, has accumulated since his first hit record, way back in 1949.
In these times of economic recession, there is no better way to forget your woes than to enjoy Big Jay's rambunctious, uproarious, high-tempo tunes. The release of the Jaywalkin' album and Big Jay's current three-state tour give everyone that opportunity.
Big Jay is one of a wave of honking, shouting tenor sax players who bridged the gap between big band swing, blues and early rock 'n' roll in the '40s and '50s by forming small tenor sax-led groups. When this wild dance music was performed and listened to by black people it was called rhythm and blues; when it became popular amongst the white youth and even performed by them, rock and roll was suddenly "born".
Jaywalkin' was recorded live during Big Jay's last Australian tour in April 1990. It spans the range of his talents, from his slow, sensual rendition of "Summertime", through the wonderfully corny '50s tear-jerker "There is something on your mind" and the blues of "Country boy", to the all-out shouting and honking rock and roll of "Big Jay Shuffle" and "Jaywalkin'". There is also a marvellous version of Ray Charles' classic country song "I can't stop loving you".
Though the album captures much of the excitement and fun of a Big Jay concert, nothing compares to the real thing. His first gig on this tour, at the Harbourside Brasserie in Sydney on May 30, was terrific. The Big Jay McNeely Show is visual as much as musical — for a start the glow-in-the-dark orange and lime green sax make little impact on the recording.
Watching the man perform, it was hard to believe he was 64 years old. He spent as much time weaving through the dancing throng on his celebrated Jaywalks, playing all the time, as he did on stage. But be warned! If you choose to dance at the front, expect to be invited to become part of the show.
On both the album and the tour, Big Jay is accompanied by the Mighty Reapers — arguably Australia's best r&b band. Robert Susz's harp work and "Mr Dave" Brewer's guitar are highlights.
A special note of thanks should go out to hard-working people at Big City Promotions who have been responsible for a spate of top jazz, r&b and world music tours recently. These have included the Bhundu Boys, the World Saxophone Quartet and, in few weeks time, the remarkable Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens from South D>