New York Times
December 10, 2010
Mr. Moody, who began his career with the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie shortly after World War II and maintained it well into the 21st century, developed distinctive and equally fluent styles on both tenor and alto saxophone, a relatively rare accomplishment in jazz. He also played soprano saxophone, and in the mid-1950s he became one of the first significant jazz flutists, impressing the critics if not himself.
The self-effacing humor of that comment was characteristic of Mr. Moody, who took his music more seriously than he took himself. Musicians admired him for his dexterity, his unbridled imagination and his devotion to his craft, as did critics; reviewing a performance in 1980, Gary Giddins of The Village Voice praised Mr. Moody’s “unqualified directness of expression” and said his improvisations at their best were “mini-epics in which impassioned oracles, comic relief, suspense and song vie for chorus time.” But audiences were equally taken by his ability to entertain.
Defying the stereotype of the modern jazz musician as austere and humorless (and following the example of Gillespie, whom he considered his musical mentor and with whom he worked on and off for almost half a century), Mr. Moody told silly jokes, peppered his repertory with unlikely numbers like “Beer Barrel Polka” and the theme from “The Flintstones,” and often sang. His singing voice was unpolished but enthusiastic — and very distinctive, partly because he spoke and sang with a noticeable lisp, a result of having been born partly deaf.
The song he sang most often had a memorable name and an unusual history. Based on the harmonic structure of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” it began life as an instrumental when Mr. Moody recorded it in Stockholm in 1949, improvising an entirely new melody on a borrowed alto saxophone. Released as “I’m in the Mood for Love” (and credited to that song’s writers) even though his rendition bore only the faintest resemblance to the original tune, it was a modest hit for Mr. Moody in 1951. It became a much bigger hit shortly afterward when the singer Eddie Jefferson wrote lyrics to Mr. Moody’s improvisation and another singer, King Pleasure, recorded it as “Moody’s Mood for Love.”
“Moody’s Mood for Love” (which begins with the memorable lyric “There I go, there I go, there I go, there I go ...”) became a jazz and pop standard, recorded by Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse and others. And it was a staple of Mr. Moody’s concert and nightclub performances as sung by Mr. Jefferson, who was a member of his band for many years. Mr. Jefferson was shot to death in 1979; when Mr. Moody, who was in the middle of a long hiatus from jazz at the time, resumed his career a few years later, he began singing the song himself. He never stopped.
James Moody — he was always Moody, never James, Jim or Jimmy, to his friends and colleagues — was born in Savannah, Ga., on March 26, 1925, to James and Ruby Moody, and raised in Newark. Despite being hard of hearing, he gravitated toward music and began playing alto saxophone at 16, later switching to tenor. He played with an all-black Army Air Forces band during World War II. After being discharged in 1946, he auditioned for Gillespie, who led one of the first big bands to play the complex and challenging new form of jazz known as bebop. He failed that audition but passed a second one a few months later, and soon captured the attention of the jazz world with a brief but fiery solo on the band’s recording of the Gillespie composition “Emanon.”
Mr. Moody’s career was twice interrupted by alcoholism. The first time, in 1948, he moved to Paris to live with an uncle while he recovered. He returned to the United States in 1951 to capitalize on the success of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” forming a seven-piece band that mixed elements of modern jazz with rhythm and blues. After a fire at a Philadelphia nightclub destroyed the band’s equipment, uniforms and sheet music in 1958, he began drinking again and checked himself into the Overbrook psychiatric hospital in Cedar Grove, N.J. After a stay of several months, he celebrated his recovery by writing and recording the uptempo blues “Last Train From Overbrook,” which became one of his best-known compositions.
After seven years of pit-band anonymity, providing accompaniment for everyone from Milton Berle to Ike and Tina Turner to Liberace, Mr. Moody divorced his wife, Margena, and returned to the East Coast to resume his jazz career. His final three decades were productive, with frequent touring and recording (as the leader of his own small group and, on occasion, as a sideman with Gillespie, who died in 1993) and even a brief foray into acting, with a bit part in the 1997 Clint Eastwood film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” set in Mr. Moody’s birthplace, Savannah.
"Jazz saxophonist James Moody dies at 85
Musician best known for 1949 hit 'Moody's Mood for Love'
The Associated Press
SAN DIEGO — Jazz saxophonist James Moody is best known for his 1949 "Moody's Mood for Love," but when he recorded the hit that eventually was elected into the Grammy Awards' Hall of Fame, he said, he was just "trying to find the right notes."
"When I made that record, I was a tenor saxophonist playing alto for the first time on record and I was trying to find the right notes, to be truthful. People later said to me: 'You must have been very inspired when you recorded that.' And I said: 'Yeah I was inspired to find the right notes!'" Moody told the San Diego Union-Tribune in February.
The song was later recorded by Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse and others. Bill Cosby, a longtime fan and confidante, called it a "national anthem."
On Thursday, Moody, who recorded more than 50 solo albums as well as songs with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and B.B. King, died at San Diego Hospice after a 10-month battle with pancreatic cancer, his wife said. He was 85.
"James Moody had a sound, an imagination and heart as big as the moon. He was the quintessential saxophone player, and his 'Moody's Mood for Love' will forever be remembered in jazz history side by side with Coleman Hawkins' classic 'Body and Soul,'" friend and collaborator Quincy Jones said in a statement Thursday. "Today we've lost not only one of the best sax players to ever finger the instrument, but a true national treasure."
His last album, "Moody 4B," was recorded in 2008 and released in 2010.
Moody was nominated for four Grammies. He received a 1998 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award and a 2007 Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend award. He has also been inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame.
Moody was "a titan of our music" who was "just impeccable, his musicianship, his soul, his humor," Wynton Marsalis said.
"Moody's Mood for Love," his interpretation of the 1935 ballad "I'm in the Mood for Love," was recorded in Sweden. In 2001, it was elected into the Grammy Awards' Hall of Fame in 2001.
Moody sang the song with Nancy Wilson on an episode of "The Cosby Show" in the 1980s. Cosby also featured the song in the 2004 movie "Fat Albert."
"He has taught me integrity, how to express love for your fellow human beings, and how to combine and contain manhood and maturity," Cosby told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
"James Moody is one of the blueprints that you measure yourself up against," said Laurie Ann Gibson, creative director for Interscope Records and choreographer for several lady Gaga music videos.
Moody, born in Savannah, Ga., joined Dizzy Gillespie's all-star big band in the 1940s. He was featured in the first episode of the PBS series "Legends of Jazz," and walked an invisible dog in the 1997 film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" when he was cast by longtime fan Clint Eastwood.
Moody performed on stages around the world, including the White House, Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and London's Royal Festival Hall. His last public performance was Jan. 28 at a Grammy-sponsored show in Seal Beach.
Moody's talent wasn't confined to jazz — he was a member of the Las Vegas Hilton Orchestra in the 1970s, sharing the spotlight with everyone from Glenn Campbell, Liberace and the Osmonds to Lou Rawls and Elvis Presley.
Many of those artists sang "Moody's Mood for Love."
"James Moody is one of the blueprints that you measure yourself up against," said Laurie Ann Gibson, creative director for Interscope Records and choreographer for several Lady Gaga music videos.
A public funeral service is scheduled Dec. 18 at Greenwood Memorial Park, followed by a public celebration of his life at Faith Chapel in Spring Valley.
Moody is survived by Linda Moody, his third wife; daughter Michelle Bagdanove; sons Patrick, Regan and Danny McGowan; brother Lou Watters; four grandchildren and one great grandson.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.