December 11, 2010


James Moody, Genial Jazz Reedman, Dies ( Patrick Jarenwattananon, 12/10/10, NPR)

Jazz saxophonist and flutist James Moody died Thursday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. A virtuoso player known for his effusive warmth on and off stage, Moody enjoyed a career stretching more than 60 years. He was 85.

Moody is known for his decades-long association with bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie, whose band he first joined following a stint in a segregated Air Force Band during World War II. Independent of Gillespie, Moody's 1949 improvisation over "I'm in the Mood for Love" became a classic. A vocal arrangement of that improvisation, titled "Moody's Mood for Love," was covered by dozens of artists afterward, including King Pleasure, Van Morrison and Aretha Franklin.

For many years, Moody also led and participated in successful ensembles which built on bebop developments. He achieved mastery on multiple instruments, which came in handy while he worked as a backup musician in Las Vegas nightclubs during the 1970s.

-James Moody: 'Moody's Mood for Love' (A. B. Spellman and Murray Horwitz, October 1, 2001, NPR Basic Jazz Record Library Entry)

-AUDIO: James Moody Recorded August 19-20, 1993 (Smithsonian Jazz Class)
-The Many Moods Of James Moody (Josh Jackson, 11/23/10, NPR: Take Five)
-OBIT: James Moody, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 85 (PETER KEEPNEWS, 12/10/10, NY Times)

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.

“I’m not a flute player,” he told one interviewer. “I’m a flute holder.”

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.

-OBIT: James Moody dies at 85; jazz saxophonist and flutist (Don Heckman, 12/10/10, LA Times)
The recording, made in Stockholm in 1949, became a rare jazz hit as an instrumental. When singer King Pleasure recorded Eddie Jefferson's lyrics for Moody's improvisation in 1954, it became a cross-genre hit, subsequently recorded by singers ranging from Van Morrison, George Benson and Aretha Franklin to Tito Puente and Amy Winehouse. Moody, himself, frequently sang the version with lyrics in his live performances.

The original improvisation was recorded on alto saxophone, an instrument Moody had not been playing at the time.

"Up to this point, I had been playing strictly tenor saxophone," he told Times jazz writer Leonard Feather in 1988. "At one session, I noticed that Lars Gullin, the Swedish saxophonist, had an alto sax lying around. I said, 'Do you mind if I try it out?' "

Moody did not initially expect to record with the alto, however, and the song came to life only as a spontaneous, last-minute addition to the session.

"The producer decided we needed an extra tune," he recalled. "But [he] didn't have any music prepared. I suggested making 'I'm in the Mood for Love,' and we went ahead and did it, in one take, with me playing this beat-up alto saxophone. Well, you know what happened."

-OBIT: 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" (George Varga, December 9, 2010, San Diego Union Tribune)
“ ‘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.

-OBIT: Jazz musician James Moody, improviser of 'Moody's Mood for Love,' dies at 85 (Matt Schudel, 12/10/10, Washington Post)
What happened was that Mr. Moody improvised a sinuous, harmonically complex solo in which a quiet urgency animated the tune's romantic tone. By the time he returned to the United States in 1952, his recording had become a modest hit, much to his surprise. To satisfy public demand, Mr. Moody had to relearn his solo by practicing along with his own record.

Singer Eddie Jefferson was so taken with the bebop-flavored melody that he wrote lyrics to fit the contours of Mr. Moody's instrumental improvisation. This innovation in jazz singing and composing came to be known as vocalese.

The reconfigured tune, with its catchy opening line, "There I go, there I go, there I go, there I go," was called "Moody's Mood for Love" and was soon recorded by singer King Pleasure.

With backing vocals by Blossom Dearie, Pleasure's version of the song became a pop hit in 1954 and included a direct reference to Mr. Moody at the end: "James Moody, you can come on in, man, and you can blow now if you want to. We're through."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 11, 2010 12:00 AM
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