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JAMES MOODY (March 26, 1925-December 9, 2010) • In Loving Memory

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A message from Linda Moody
The official James Moody website

James Moody (1925-2010)

James and Linda Moody

Fantasy/Prestige/Milestone

Arne Domnérus, James Moody, Thorne Swanerud (Stockholm 1950)

Listen ||| James Moody, Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie

Watch James Moody himself tell how he came to create his enduring masterpiece

James Moody discographies

Forthcoming: Photo credits, plus Al Young’s “Moody’s Mood for Love,” the author’s prose-poetic tribute to James Moody, selected from Drowning in the Sea of Love (Musical Memoirs), 1996

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A jazz giant passes: James Moody, 1925-2010

The San Diego saxophonist influenced and inspired several generations of fans and fellow musicians, including Quincy Jones, who hails Moody as “a national treasure”

By George Varga

© 2010 George Varga | San Diego Union-Tribune
Originally published December 9, 2010 at 2:36 p.m.; updated December 9, 2010 at 9:34 p.m.

Jazz sax legend James Moody. Photo: K.C. Alfred

Remembering Moody

A gentle musical giant, James Moody touched countless fans around the world with his ebullient saxophone playing and tireless dedication to the art of jazz. We invite you to share your memories of Moody, and to tell others what he and his music meant to you.

James Moody, an international jazz star since 1949 and a San Diego resident since 1989, has played his last refrain. An acclaimed saxophonist, flutist, composer and band leader for 60 of his 85 years, Mr. Moody died Thursday at 1:07 p.m. at the San Diego Hospice, according to his wife, San Diego Realtor Linda McGowan Moody, who was by his side. His death came after a 10-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

“He couldn’t have gone more peacefully,” said Mrs. Moody, who on Monday had her husband moved from their San Carlos home to the San Diego Hospice.

Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis hailed Mr. Moody, with whom he had often collaborated at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, as “a titan of our music.” He also praised Mr. Moody as “just impeccable, his musicianship, his soul, his humor.”

Mr. Moody first achieved prominence in 1946 as a member of bebop trumpet icon Dizzy Gillespie’s all-star big band. Noted for his ebullient stage persona and his ability to inject warmth and joy into even his most intricate compositions, Mr. Moody leaves behind one of the longest and most distinguished jazz careers in memory.

He recorded his best-known hit, “Moody’s Mood for Love,” in 1949. An ingenious interpretation of the 1935 ballad “I’m in the Mood for Love,” the title under which Mr. Moody’s recording was initially released, it features one of the most acclaimed saxophone solos in jazz history. It became a global vocal hit in 1954 for singer King Pleasure, who sang lyrics that were written for the song in 1952 by noted jazz vocalist Eddie Jefferson. Mr. Moody subsequently began singing it himself and performed it as his theme song at each of his concerts.

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“Moody’s Mood for Love” was elected into the Grammy Awards’ Hall of Fame in 2001 and has been recorded by such diverse artists as Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Rod Stewart, Queen Latifah, Tito Puente and 2006 “American Idol” contestant Elliott Yamin.

“ ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’ is a national anthem,” said longtime Moody fan and confidante Bill Cosby, who in the 1980s sang a duet of the song with jazz vocal star Nancy Wilson in an episode of “The Cosby Show,” his hit TV series. Cosby also prominently featured the song in his 2004 feature film, “Fat Albert,” which came as a surprise to Mr. and Mrs. Moody when Cosby had them attend the film’s premiere.


In addition to praising Mr. Moody’s artistic excellence and tireless devotion to jazz, Cosby credited the jazz legend for being a personal role model.

“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 The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Genre-hopping music great Quincy Jones, a longtime friend and collaborator, hailed Mr. Moody as “the quintessential saxophone player” in a statement issued late Thursday afternoon.

“My heart is heavy with the news of the passing of my mentor, colleague and brother James Moody,” Mr Jone said. “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.’

“I had the privilege to produce and arrange three versions of ‘Moody’s Mood For Love’ — in 1972 with Aretha Franklin, in 1980 with George Benson, and in 1995 with Brian McKnight, Take 6, Rachelle Ferrell, and Mr. Moody himself. And to this day, I can’t begin to tell you how many different generations of people come up to me and say…..`I remember my mom and dad playing that song over and over again when I was a kid.’

“James Moody was one of the people who allowed me to stand on his shoulders when I was coming up. And there can never be a value placed on that. So much of who I am today, is because of who James Moody was to me back then.

“Thank God there’s a difference between chemical and spiritual energy. His spiritual energy will be in the deepest part of my heart for as long as I live. There are simply no words I can say…there will never be another like him. Today we’ve lost not only one of the best sax players to ever finger the instrument, but a true national treasure. My love and all my condolences to his wife Linda to his beautiful, beautiful family.”

Franklin, whose own battle against pancreatic cancer was reported this week, counted herself among Mr. Moody’s greatest admirers.

During a 2005 Union-Tribune interview to preview her performance here that summer at Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay, the soul-music queen brightened notably upon learning her Moody – one of her longtime idols — resided in the area.

“Does James Moody live in San Diego? The famous James Moody! I would love to meet him,” Franklin said during that interview.

She then added: “I wonder if he would come to the concert and sing `Moody’s Mood for Love?’ And I would sing it with him. I’ve never, ever met him. And I would absolutely love to.”

Their unrehearsed duet of the song on stage at Humphrey’s was a highlight of the concert for Franklin, who laughed with delight when Mr. Moody launched into a darting scat vocal line so joyful and intricate that even she couldn’t match it.

Mr. Moody’s appeal transcended generations — he was often surrounded by teenaged musicians seeking his autograph at the annual International Association of Jazz Educators’ conference — and musical styles.

“James Moody is one of the blueprints that you measure yourself up against,” said Laurie Ann Gibson, the creative director of Interscope Records and the award-winning choreographer of “Bad Romance,” “Telephone” and other Lady Gaga music videos.

“The type of excellence and soul Moody achieved is what we hope to re-gain in the music industry. The level of artistry he reached is something you hope young performers will closely study and understand.”

A 1998 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award recipient and a 2007 Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend Award winner, Mr. Moody was featured in “The Jazz Masters,” the first episode of the 2005 PBS TV series “Legends of Jazz.” In 1997, he had a memorable role (walking an “invisible dog”) in the Clint Eastwood-directed film, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Eastwood was a longtime fan.

“When we met with the casting director, she said: `Mr. Moody, how long have you known Mr. Eastwood?’ “ Linda Moody said in a 1997 >Union-Tribune interview. “And James said: We just met last October at Carnegie Hall at the ‘Eastwood After Hours’ (all-star jazz) concert.’ And the casting director said:You’re kidding! Clint talks about you like he’s known you for years.’ “

Mr. Moody performed three times at the White House (twice for President Clinton and, in 2004, for President George W. Bush). He also played two command performances for the King of Thailand in Bangkok, and appeared multiple times at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, London’s Royal Festival Hall and some of the world’s most prestigious concert venues.

“He was one of a kind,” said impressario George Wein, who met Moody in 1949 in Paris and is the jazz world’s leading producer of annual festivals.

“Moody personified the very best that jazz had to offer — and the reason for that was was because he loved to play. But along with loving to play, he had a joy in communicating to an audience. Every minute on the bandstand for Moody was fun, with his playing and knowing he could make people happy. He just had that ability. He sang and told little jokes, but he never cheated on his playing. He always played with a purity and he was a great person, a great man.

“Everyone who knew him, loved him. You could not know Moody without loving him. What do you say when somebody like that is gone? He was a true original. They don’t make them like that anymore.”

Mr. Moody’s last public performance was Jan. 28 at a Grammy Awards-sponsored show in Seal Beach. His most recent concert here was March 21, 2009, at San Diego State University’s Smith Recital Hall, where he played with the combination of infectious verve, soulful intensity and finely hued sophistication that had long been his musical trademarks.

A native of Savannah, Ga., Mr. Moody was born March 26, 1925. Raised in

Newark, New Jersey, he began playing saxophone as a teenager. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he joined Gillespie’s band, where he played alongside such luminaries as Milt Jackson, Ray Brown and John Lewis (who later comprised three-fourths of the fabled Modern Jazz Quartet). His first album as a band leader,

“James Moody & His Bop Men,” was released in 1948 by Blue Note Records. It was the start of an auspicious career that saw him win enough awards and proclamations to fill a small museum.

But Mr. Moody didn’t put much weight on accolades. When he was complimented in late October about his many honors, including his mid-1990s induction into the International Jazz Hall of Fame, Mr. Moody quickly deflected the praise.

“It’s nice to be recognized,” he said.”But there are a lot of other cats who are great musicians, men and women, who should have been honored and who deserve it more.”

Mr. Moody had over 50 solo albums to his credit, in addition to making dozens more recordings with Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Lionel Hampton, B.B. King, Oscar Peterson, Manhattan Transfer and others. His most recent release, “4B,” came out in August. Earlier this month, it earned a Grammy Award nomination — his fourth — for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, (by an) Individual or Group.

Yet, while jazz was his greatest musical passion, Mr. Moody could effortlessly perform almost any style with elan. He demonstrated this as a member of the Las Vegas Hilton Orchestra in the 1970s, when he shared the stage with everyone from Glenn Campbell, Liberace and Ann-Margaret to The Osmonds, Elvis Presley and Lou Rawls. More than a few of the artists he worked with over the years featured “Moody’s Mood for Love” as part of their own concert repertoires.

Asked about the enduring acclaim bestowed upon “Moody’s Mood for Love,” Mr. Moody was typically self-effacing during a Union-Tribune interview in February at his San Carlos home.

“I don’t pay any attention to that stuff,” he said. “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!’ ”

He recorded “Moody’s Mood for Love” in Sweden in 1949, during a European visit that started as a three-week vacation and lasted several years. Being abroad was an eye-opening experience for Mr. Moody, who never forgot the racism he encountered here in his native country, both before and after his European sojourn.

“In America, I thought there was something wrong with me,” said Mr. Moody, who recalled how, as an Air Force private in North Carolina, he was not allowed to eat in the same restaurants where German prisoners of war dined.

“In Paris, they treated me like they treated each other, which was altogether different from how they treated me here. When I was in France, I said: `Ah, it isn’t me (that’s the problem in America), it’s them.’ I felt good, and now I know there’s no one in this world who’s better than me. By the same token, I’m not better than anyone else.”

Mr. Moody and his wife did not publicly disclose his cancer until Nov. 2, until then confiding his condition only to immediate family members and a few close friends.

He underwent surgery Feb. 28 at UCSD Thornton Hospital to have his pancreatic cancer tumor resected, but his doctors determined it would be impossible to do so without endangering his life. Instead, his gall bladder was removed and a double bypass was performed on his digestive system to remove blockage.

Mr. Moody opted not to receive any chemo therapy or radiation treatment. While his health weakened, he maintained his characteristically upbeat demeanor almost to the end. He would pick up his saxophone or flute, even if only for a few minutes, whenever he could, as befits a master musician who was constantly striving to learn more about music and improve on his instrument.

“My goal is that I want to play better tomorrow than I did today, because I’m not in competition with anyone else,” Mr. Moody noted in a 2005 Union-Tribune interview.”If you try to do that, to compete, you’d better give up, because there’s always somebody, somewhere, who has more going on. And that’s what makes jazz so beautiful, that’s what makes the world beautiful.

“If you’re practicing something you’ve played before, you’re not practicing. You have to play something new. There are hundreds of ways to play a major scale, and then when you add a harmonic minor and a natural minor and a natural minor flat fifth, you get something new. You’ll never get it all, but you keep trying.”

In addition to his third wife, Linda, Mr. Moody is survived by a brother, Lou Watters; a daughter, Michelle Bagdanove; sons Patrick, Regan and Danny McGowan; four grandchildren and one great grandson.

A public funeral service will be held Dec. 18 at 12:30 p.m. at Greenwood Memorial Park, followed by a public celebration of his life at 2 p.m. at Faith Chapel in Spring Valley. In lieu of flowers, the Moody family has requested that donations be sent to the CFNJ James Moody Jazz Scholarship for Newark Youth Fund, P.O. Box 338, Morristown, N.J., 07963-0338.

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One Response to “JAMES MOODY (March 26, 1925-December 9, 2010) • In Loving Memory”

  1. Paris Says:

    It’s sad, very sad. A giant of jazz has gone. Rest in peace, James …

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