James Moody, American saxophonist famed for his 1949 version of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” is an original master of bebop—the first style of modern jazz developed in the late 1940s. Early in his outstanding musical career, Moody worked with bebop founders and legends such as saxophonist Charlie Parker, pianist Thelonious Monk, drummer Kenny Clarke, and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie to forge a radical style of music marked by complicated improvisation and vast harmonic territory for jazz soloists. Moody himself has proven to be a fluent soloist on the tenor and alto saxophone, as well as the flute. Decades after the creation of bebop, Moody’s musical style and vision continue to evolve. “Over the years, Moody has become so free—not in a random fashion, but a scientific freedom—that he can do anything he wants with the saxophone…. He has true knowledge. He is in complete control,” saxophonist Jimmy Heath told Down Beat’s Ted Panken. Moody has been honored by receiving induction into the International Jazz Hall of Fame, and he was presented with the Jazz Masters Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998.
Born on March 26, 1925, in Savannah, Georgia, and raised in Newark, New Jersey, James Moody—named after his absent, trumpet-playing father—discovered his love of music at a young age. “When I was a kid [my mother] had a washing machine outside of the house that would go ‘arookata-arookata.’ She said I used to stand by and dance to the washing machine,” Moody explained to Saxophone Journal. Although he was born partially deaf, at the age of 16, Moody began playing an old, silver alto saxophone given to him by an uncle. A few years later, he heard tenor saxophonists Don Byas and Buddy Tate perform with the Count Basie Band at the Adams Theater in Newark where he became enchanted by the more full-bodied sound of the tenor. The music of two other great tenor saxophonists, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, electrified Moody and helped convince him to dedicate his life to playing the saxophone.
While serving in an African American unit of the United States Air Force from 1943-46, Moody met Gillespie, the influential trumpeter in whom he would find a lifelong friend and mentor. At the time, Moody was playing in the unauthorized ‘Negro Air Force Band,’ led by trumpeter Dave Burns, whom Moody would soon play with in Gillespie’s big band and later in Moody’s own band of the mid 1950s. Moody and Burns were blown away when they heard Gillespie perform at a military base in Greensboro, North Carolina. The two young men talked to the trumpeter and told him of their upcoming discharge from the Air Force. Gillespie invited them to audition for his band in New York. A few months after failing his first audition, Moody joined
For the Record…
Born on March 26, 1925, in Savannah, GA. Education: Studied composition with Dizzy Gillespie, composition and theory with Tom Mclntosh, and theory with Michael Longo.
Began playing alto saxophone at age 16; joined U.S. Air Force Band, 1943; joined Dizzy Gillespie’s orchestra, 1946; recorded debut album as a leader, James Moody and His Bebop Men, 1948; moved to Europe, recorded “I’m in the Mood for Love,” 1949; returned to U.S., formed James Moody Septet, 1951; recorded Argo debut as flutist, Flute ‘n’ the Blues, 1956; joined the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, 1963-70; played in Las Vegas Hilton Orchestra, 1970s; released Sweet and Lovely, 1986; released Something Special, 1989; toured with Gillespie and the United Nations Orchestra, early 1990s; released Young at Heart, 1996; appeared in film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, 1997; released Warner Bros, album, Moody Plays Mancini, 1997.
Awards: Jazz Masters Fellowship Award, National Endowment for the Arts, 1998.
Member: International Jazz Hall of Fame.
Addresses: Management —c/o Ina Dittke, 770 NE 69th Street, Miami, FL 33138, phone: (305) 762-4309, fax: (305) 762-4308, e-mail: [email protected] Website —James Moody Official Website: http://www.jamesmoody.com. E-mail —[email protected]
Gillespie’s all-star bebop big band in 1946. By joining Gillespie’s group, Moody established an association that would offer him international exposure and the chance to create his own brilliant improvisational style.
The 21-year-old Moody was overwhelmed and impressed by the orchestra’s awe-inspiring range of talent, which included the supreme vibraphonist Milt Jackson, Clarke on drums, bassist Ray Brown, Monk on piano, Dave Burns on trumpet, and arguably one of the twentieth century’s greatest creative artists, trumpeter Miles Davis. It was during his first recording with the band that Moody established himself as a superb soloist. He made a startling impact on Gillespie’s 1946 version of “Emanon,” in which he opened his nowfamous 16-bar solo with a surprising, trumpet-like burst of notes. “Moody’s ‘Emanon’ solo was very exciting to all the saxophone players around Philadelphia. It was very different than any blues solo that you had heard. He had the bebop sound,” Heath told Panken. One year later, Moody recorded with Jackson for Dial Records, and in 1948, he made his recording debut as a leader using players from Gillespie’s band on James Moody and His Bebop Men for Blue Note.
In 1949, Moody moved to Paris, where he lived with his uncle, to recover from a bout with alcoholism. He frequently played at the Club St. Germain and toured France, Scandinavia, and Switzerland, recording with both European and visiting American stars such as Davis and Clarke. He also got married and had a daughter, all the while recording over 90 sides for a variety of labels, melodically reinventing ballads, blues and bop tunes.
On October 12, 1949, while in Sweden on a two-week nightclub engagement, Moody recorded “I’m in the Mood for Love,” the risky, improvisational masterpiece for which he is now renowned. A group called James Moody and His Swedish Crowns recorded Moody’s adventurous interpretation of this pop song by Jimmy McHugh for Metronome in Stockholm. As fate would have it, legendary Swedish saxophonist Lars Gullin came by the studio to hear Moody in action. On a whim, Moody asked Gullin if he could borrow the beat up alto saxophone that he had brought along with him. It was the first time Moody played the alto professionally. Pianist Gosta Theselius, who arranged the music, jotted down the harmonies to “I’m in the Mood for Love” while in the bathroom. When he came out, the song was done in one fantastic take. The beginning of Moody’s solo has become classic, but in fact, the musician, accustomed to playing the tenor, hesitated while he tried to find the right notes on his new instrument. The song changed Moody’s life and launched a fresh career for him back in the United States where the song unexpectedly became a huge juke box hit when it was initially released by Prestige Records. In 1954, the tune had a resurgence in popularity when the singer King Pleasure released a new version called “Moody’s Mood For Love” using lyrics by vocalist Eddie Jefferson, which referred to Moody by name. The song has since become a standard, with famous singers like Aretha Franklin covering it.
Due to the racism he had experienced during his service in the Air Force, Moody had not considered returning from Europe to the United States. In 1951, however, he did so in order to capitalize on his record’s success as a professionally established alto and tenor player. Shortly after his arrival, he formed a septet that integrated R&B with jazz and employed bop vocalist Eddie Jefferson as the band’s singer. In 1956, Moody’s septet recorded Flute ‘n’ the Blues, the band’s label debut with Argo Records and Moody’s first as a flutist. “I never really studied the flute, although I had help from many beautiful people. So I just got a flute and started ‘spittin’ into it not knowing what I was doing. The fingerings, some of them, seemed similar to saxophone, and I just blew like that and that’s how I started,” Moody told Saxophone Journal. Flute ’n the Blues is an album on which Moody plays all three of his instruments, conveying the same deep feeling with his flute that he does on the saxophone. The record features “Boo’s Tune,” one of two pieces recorded by Moody to be covered by the Ray Charles band.
The 1950s saw Moody play a series of three-tenor shows with saxophonists Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, as well as work with R&B and soul singers Dinah Washington and Brook Benton. Despite producing a number of exceptional recordings for Argo, Moody grew dissatisfied with the incessant touring and constant pressures of road life. In 1958, Moody’s career took a bad turn when a fire destroyed his band’s instruments, uniforms, and arrangements. A series of events led Moody to seek treatment for alcoholism at a mental institution called Overbrook Hospital in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. He was determined not to allow his addiction to mean the end of his life and career. After a six-month recovery period, his mother picked him up from Overbrook and saw him off at the Newark train station. He was on his way to Chicago, embarking on a journey that symbolized rebirth after months of suffering. In Chicago, he recorded the inspirational, bluesy album entitled Last Train from Overbrook on which he demonstrates his growth and agility as a flutist.
In 1963, after more than a decade, Moody rejoined Gillespie, replacing Leo Wright as reedman-flutist in Gillespie’s quintet until 1970. According to Panken, Moody’s thorough study of Coltrane’s harmonic system “brought his playing to new levels of complexity and abstraction.” Wanting a steady job that would afford him time with his new wife and young daughter, Moody left the one-nighters behind and moved to Las Vegas in 1973. He had a seven-year stint in the Las Vegas Hilton Orchestra performing shows for rock ‘n’ roll mega-star Elvis Presley, popular television personality Bill Cosby, and glitzy pianist Liberace.
Moody got divorced and moved back to the East Coast in the 1980s. His career received a boost during this decade when he put together his own band again and received a 1985 Grammy Award nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance for his playing on the Manhattan Transfer’s Vocalese album. The record launched Moody back into the jazz scene as a recording artist, and the next year, he released his RCA/Novus debut titled Something Special. This recording was followed by Moving Forward, which features Moody’s energetic vocals on the tune” What Do You Do” and showcases his creative flute playing on the song “Giant Steps.” His 1989 album, Sweet and Lovely, is dedicated to his wife Linda, whom he married in April of the same year. Gillespie was the best man, and he performed the solo on “Con Alma” to which the bride and groom walked down the aisle.
Moody teamed with Gillespie again during the 1990s. They received a Grammy Award nomination for their version of Gillespie’s “Get the Booty,” which showcases outstanding scatting. The two men also toured Europe and the United States with the United Nations Orchestra. The 1995 Telarc release Moody’s Party is a live recording of his historic seventieth birthday celebration at New York’s Blue Note. In April of 1996, the prolific artist released his first Warner Bros, album called Young at Heart, a recording that pays tribute to songs associated with Frank Sinatra. While touring extensively, Moody managed to find the time to appear as Mr. Glover in the 1997 film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. During the latter part of the decade, he received a variety of honors, including his first honorary degree from Florida Memorial College, his induction into the International Jazz Hall of Fame, the 1998 Jazz Masters Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the release of his Warner Bros. album Moody Plays Mancini.
In the spring of 2000, Moody celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday with another remarkable party, this time at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City with the help of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and notable Gillespie disciples. The audience was packed, and guests Slide Hampton, Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Jon Faddis, Kenny Barron, Janis Siegel, and Bill Cosby honored Moody. In conjunction with his birthday, Moody received proclamations from the cities of New York and Newark and was honored by the Congressional Black Caucus. On July 22, 2000, Moody received an honorary doctorate from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, awarded in Perugia, Italy.
Despite all of his accomplishments, Moody is humble, always seeking new knowledge about chords and scales, forever pushing the limits of jazz music. As he told Saxophone Journal, “I’ve had a saxophone for over 50 years, and still can’t play it.”
Compilations; as leader; with others
Return from Overbrook (reissue of Flute ’n the Blues and Last Train from Overbrook), Chess, 1996.
James Moody and the Swedish All-Stars Greatest Hits (remastered reissue of James Moody’s Greatest Hits and More of James Moody’s Greatest Hits), Prestige, 1999.
As leader; with others
Young at Heart, Warner Bros., 1996.
Moody Plays Mancini, Warner Bros., 1997.
As sideman; with Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie and His Big Band, GNP/Crescendo, 1948; reissued, 1993.
Something Old, Something New, Verve, 1963; reissued, 1998.
Holtje, Steve, and Nancy Ann Lee, editors, MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.
Kernfeld, Barry, editor, New Grove Dictionary of Jazz: Volume Two, Macmillan Press, 1988.
Down Beat, June 2001.
New York Times, April 2, 2000.
Saxophone Journal, January 1998.
James Moody Official Website, http://www.jamesmoody.com (June 29, 2001).
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