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Big Jay McNeely

Big Jay McNeely brought the tenor sax to prominence in the golden age of R&B, known as the “King of the Honkers,” for his wild style and outrageous showmanship..

Tenor saxophonist Cecil “Big Jay” McNeely was born in Watts, California, on April 29, 1927, he formed his own band with jazz legends Sonny Criss (alto sax) and Hampton Hawes (piano) while still in high school. But in late 1948, when he was asked to record for Savoy Records, he abandoned jazz for something more raucous and struck paydirt when his second release, a honked-up instrumental called “Deacon's Hop,” went to #1 on the national R&B charts in February 1949. For the next several years, Big Jay was famed for his playing-on-his-back acrobatics and his raw, hard-swinging playing. During his act he'd leave the stage, walk across the top of the bar, and sometimes walk out the door of the club, often with a line of people following him.

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