James Moody (1925-2010): An Appreciation

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Jazz saxophone and flute giant James Moody has been around seemingly forever and never slowed down, but yesterday pancreatic cancer finally ended a long and distinguished career at the age of 85. He was a key member of Dizzy Gillespie bands going back to the 1940s (Diz once remarked, “Playing with James Moody is like playing with a continuation of myself.”) and of course, the co-author of that endearing jazz standard “Moody’s Mood.”

Born in Savannah, Georgia partially deaf, Moody overcame both that disability and racial discrimination in the Army Air Corps to land a lead spot in Gillespie’s band shortly after WWII that embarked him on a career as an oustanding and influential figure, especially as a tenor sax player. His “Moody’s Mood” became a surprise hit in 1952, gaining him recognition beyond his Gillespie association, and even today contemporary artists like Brian McKnight and Amy Winehouse cover it. A Grammy nomination in 1985 gave his career another boost after years of playing in Vegas.

Even in recent years, Moody—he preferred to be called just that, “Moody”—showed little sign of slowing down, recording and releasing about an album a year since 2004. His last one, 4B was examined here just a few months ago. It was a record I thought showed him in prime form, but little did I or anyone else know at that time that Moody had by that time inoperable pancreatic cancer (it was publicly announced only last month). 4B presented a player whose buttery tone was intact and style flawlessly wistful and articulate. The Grammy folks apparently agreed, bestowing a nomination on the record in what turned out to be one last well-deserved honor bestowed on Moody during his lifetime.

More honors are sure to follow posthumously, but as a man said to be as warm and gracious in person as he projects through his instruments, the jazz world could have benefited having him around for another 85 years.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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