Tenor saxophonist Big Jay McNeely has been a musical revolutionary for decades. His first recording, the sinuous, irresistible 1949 instrumental “Deacon's Hop,” ignited a rhythm-and-blues explosion that heralded and hastened the rise of rock 'n' roll.
His volcanic live shows reached frenzy pitch so reliably that within three years he was banned from performing anywhere in Los Angeles County. Almost four decades later, his performance at a Berlin club the same night that the infamous Berlin Wall came down won him a local rep as “the New Joshua.”
More than 60 years into his career, McNeely, who appears at Burbank's Viva Cantina on Thursday, is still exhibiting a radical artistic sensibility. He recently recorded a loopy, funky electronic-techno set and has an ongoing collaboration with a young Afro-beat collective in the Netherlands. McNeely may be 85 years old, but he simply enjoys what he does too much to ever consider retirement.