Social Animals (big band)



July 23rd: The Dance Hall

Kittery, ME 


"A Band of Primates" redirects here. For other uses, see Social animals (disambiguation).


Social Animals (ˈsəʊʃəl ánəməlz) are a band of primates originating in the northeastern United States.  They thrive in a diverse ecosystem and travel in groups of 17-19 individuals.  Each animal comes from a different habitat; but all are adapted to a variety of contemporary musical environments.  

The animals have been known to use tools –including wind, string, and percussion instruments– to entertain themselves as well as their audiences.  The group has developed an individualized rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary which they use to communicate.  They have been observed teaching their musical language in ritualistic pre-concert clinics and have also been known to collaborate with other animals with whom they share musical DNA.  

Social Animals are known to perform their music in both natural environments and in captivity.  From the dive bar to the concert hall, their performances are characterized by labyrinthian incantations of their sonic dialect, interspersed by unpredictable and jocular musical episodes.

Music For Short Attention Spans III JCWO .m4a

Music For Short Attention Spans III 

by Hunter McKay

Background Information

Origin Boston, MA, United States

Genres You be the judge

Active 2020-present

Subgroups A Band of Primates

  The Reanimators


Social Animals are a broad community.  Their ensemble follows traditional big band instrumentation but their polystylistic music demands a variety of musicians from diverse backgrounds.

Hunter McKay - Artistic Director

Saxophonist and composer, Hunter McKay founded the Social Animals Big Band in 2020.  His original music has been described as "music that will soundtrack the future (I suppose soundtracking the now as well, technically)”[1] 

Hunter composed the repertoire for the Social Animals while studying at the New England Conservatory of Music as a doctoral teaching fellow.  He learned firsthand from many of the big band composers who inspire him most including Miguel Zenón,  Frank Carlberg, Jim McNeely, Anna Webber, and Maria Schneider.

[1]Chris Hislop, Edge Magazine.

McKay beside a bridge in his home state of Maine, 2019

Josh Gagnon - Executive Director

Josh Gagnon is a Boston-based trombonist and Executive Director of the Social Animals Big Band.  A specialist in big band lead playing, Josh has been a member of many large ensembles prior to joining the Social Animals, including the Seulah Noh Orchestra, OURBIGBAND, and the Andrew Alcocer Large Ensemble.  He also plays with the Soggy Po Boys, a band that performs the music of the New Orleans tradition.

Gagnon in his Cambridge, MA home, 2023

Emily Dunbar - Administrative Coordinator

Trumpet player, Emily Dunbar is a multi-instrumentalist with a background in classical performance who has been a member of the Social Animals Big Band since its inception.  In addition to her work on the trumpet, Emily is a multi-instrumentalist who has studied piano, harp, and tabla among other instruments.  Emily's performance experience ranges from orchestral world premieres with the McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble to big band recording sessions with ensembles such as the Will Gorman Big Band and the Yu Nishiyama Jazz Orchestra.  Emily is also the concert manager of the Brockton Symphony Orchestra and was previously the operations coordinator for New England Conservatory Preparatory School.

Dunbar enjoys a snow day in Gorham, ME, 2014


A Band of Primates

A Band of Primates is a subgroup or  "band-within-a-band" of the Social Animals Big Band.

They perform the repertoire of the Social Animals Big Band in gatherings of 5-6 individuals.

A Band of Primates performs in captivity

The Reanimators

The Reanimators are the prehistoric subgroup of the Social Animals Big Band; resuscitating America's original popular music.

See also