Treatment

BIG JAY TREATMENT
  • The film opens with Big Jay McNeely in his small, cluttered one-bedroom apartment in the back of a pleasant pink house in South Los Angeles.  He is picked up by his friend, Richard Ihara, whom he met when both worked at the post office.  Ihara picks up Jay’s saxophone case, and Jay takes his walking cane, and they go to Ihara’s van.
  • Ihara has a small even more cluttered makeshift recording studio in his home in Gardena.  A middle-aged Japanese-American, Ihara writes lyrics and Jay writes music.  Ihara also does a mean Louis Armstrong vocal imitation.  Their idea is to record a few different vocalists for each ballad they write, with the recordings targeted more at publishers to tempt them to re-record the songs with big-name artists.  They work on a number called “In My Song,” which they think will be perfect for Susan Boyle, and Jay says that it’s going to be a “monster.”
  • With another friend, he works on a couple of hip-hop songs.
  • Jay also performs in a club, Jay’s Great American Bar & Grill in Burbank.  There is a good crowd for the space, but it’s still probably only a couple of hundred people at most, and many are swing dancers.  Jay takes a stab at one of his signature moves, getting down on his back and playing, but his 80-year-old knees make it a slow and laborious process, and he doesn’t like being helped.
  • Through these scenes we’ll get a peek into the unknown world of aspiring songwriters, and the musicians who won’t make the big time, but still have the passion to keep recording. In the United States, Big Jay is part of this little-seen world, although his compatriots view him as a legend whom they are lucky to know.  He is a working musician, playing in clubs and recording albums on his own time, dedicated and hopeful, negotiating every deal, even though he is 83 years old.
  • Which will take us to the next segment, Big Jay’s background.  Jay and our experts will tell us about the African-American community in South Los Angeles and Watts in the 1930s and 1940s, and how this specific community in Los Angeles was critical in the creation of Rhythm & Blues.   Unlike his friends Sonny Criss and Hampton Hawes, who stuck to jazz, McNeely chose to pursue Rhythm & Blues – the crowds and money were better in R&B in the post-war years.
  • In Watts, Jay shows us the house where he was born in 1927 and the home next door, which his mother purchased and had moved there while he and his brother were touring with success in the 1950s.  He tells us about his early music education, and how Watts was a mixed-ethnic neighborhood where everyone generally got along fine during his early years, very different from the neglected community that rose up in 1965 and 1992.
  • McNeely strove to be an entertainer as much as a musician.  He became extremely popular for his honking sax and hyped-up showmanship in the early 1950s, which included crawling on his back, bug eyes, a sax painted florescent red, and more.  He had a #1 hit in 1951 with “Deacon’s Hop,” and toured nationally.    But from the start, middle and upper-class Blacks generally frowned upon his act, seeing it as demeaning.
  • Whites and Latinos were his audience, and largely remain so to this day.  The police didn’t like the interracial mixing at his concerts, and made it almost impossible for Jay to play in the city of Los Angeles.  Jay takes us to the Olympic Auditorium, scene of an R& B show in 1951 immortalized in photos by Bob Willoughby (one seen on the title page) – mostly whites and Latinos, and a policeman visible in the background.
  • Jay guides the participants in a reenactment of one of those concerts, with a mixed audience and a young band representing him, his brother, and their band mates.  Jay regales people with stories of what the excitement was like, how tight the band was, and how the kids screamed.
  • A piece of footage from the Dumont Television Network ca. 1952 also gives an idea of Jay’s act at the time.  He comes onto the stage when introduced from the direction of the audience, surprising the hosts, and takes off his jacket while playing a rollicking solo.  He begins to get on his knees when the camera cuts away to the middlebrow New York City audience.  Experts will tell why he was a controversial figure at that time, and look into the racial and power politics involved throughout, and the social implications.
  • In the next act, we’ll follow Big Jay in further interactions with his family and friends.
  • Ideally we’ll see him at a Jehovah’s Witness meeting.  He became a Jehovah’s Witness when he was twelve years old, independently of his family, and has remained a devout practitioner his entire life.  We’ll try to see what this practice has meant to his career, keeping him free of drugs and jail, and how it also helped keep him in Los Angeles for his life. At times when he considered moving to places like Cleveland or Germany, he felt he was missing too many meetings, and would return to L.A.
  • He picks up his granddaughter at the Fashion Institute of Design in downtown Los Angeles, which she attends.  Her mother (Jay’s daughter) lives in the Inland Empire, so during the school week, his granddaughter stays with Jay on an air mattress in the living room of his already cramped apartment. They discuss her school work, or car repairs (which seem to be a continual issue).
  • Jay’s son and daughter continually have financial difficulties, paralleling the fate of thousands in the African-American community of the inner city, and Jay does what he can to provide for them, trying to get a bank loan for a car for his daughter.  He is also trying to teach his grandson how to take care of things like music royalties for the years after Jay has passed.
  • Jay prepares for a tour of Europe.  He thinks this will likely be his last tour of Europe, where his career was reborn in the 1980s.  His preparations in Los Angeles mostly consist of phone calls with tour promoters and bandleaders overseas.  But we see him sensing his own mortality, even though his Jehovah’s Witness faith makes him certain that he will be going to heaven.
  • Jay takes a computer class at a local trade school.  He slowly works his way through email, and reviews the design of his website with his part-time bandleader and manager Mark Tortorici.  Jay doesn’t quite know all the terms, but he clearly is trying to remain on top of current technology and its opportunities.
  • The next act traces the ups and downs of his career that got him to this point.
  • The heyday of the honking sax was finished with the birth of rock and roll.  The showmanship of Jay’s act became a key part of rock & roll acts, but  Jay was left behind.  In 1959 he reinvented himself with a new hit song - a ballad called “There’s Something on My Mind.”  It gave him several more years of musical notoriety with continued touring and shows in clubs nationwide.
  • In 1960 he met and married the singer Jackie Day, who was also a practicing Jehovah’s Witness.  They bought a house in a neat, predominantly white neighborhood a few miles from Watts.  They were the second Black family in the neighborhood, and the neighbors were nice, but after a third Black family moved in, as Jay puts it, “you could see all the For Sales signs going up.”  A classic case of white flight.  The neighborhood is largely Black today, a very nice middle-class area.  Jay talks about the decline of Watts in the 1960s and his view of the 1965 Watts Riots, which he viewed from this home.
  • But as the Black community in Los Angeles declined economically in the early 1960s, so did Jay’s R&B career.  In the mid-1960s, after the success of the Beatles led to the wholesale collapse of R&B venues and sales, he was stuck playing a regular gig in a burlesque club in Los Angeles while trying to raise a family.  By the early 1970s, he had to take a job at the post office, where he worked for fifteen years.
  • In the early 1980s, he was rediscovered -- by Europeans.  He started a rigorous international touring routine, playing to large crowds in Europe, Australia and Japan. In all these places, his fans are mostly middle-aged Whites looking for dancing and entertainment.  He finds a manager, Jim Dawson, and they start a label for Jay’s records.  We see him playing packed clubs and concerts – a true career renaissance.
  • The newfound success allows him to add on to the family home, adding rooms and baths and carpeting for Jackie and the children.  However, Jay lives elsewhere.  By this time he and Jackie Day have separated.  But they remain close, and Jay provides dutifully for his family as he believes he should.
  • In the next act, we’ll follow Jay on his final tour, with the slow routines of a man in his 80s, and the strict discipline of a career musician.  He rehearses with the bands picked up in Europe, and has small interactions with European fans.
  • Jay plays a concert to a large crowd at an amazing location, most likely in front of a castle in the Netherlands.  We watch several numbers as he regales the crowd and works the room in his classic manner.
  • Jay returns to Los Angeles, to his small one-bedroom apartment, hidden among the rows of homes in South Los Angeles.  A musician nearing his final retirement, struggling to get by.