James Moody 1925 – 2010

Saxophonist, flutist and bandleader James Moody died 13:07, December 9th, 2010  in San Diego, CA.

The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. He was 85.

One of the last living masters of the bebop era, Moody was perhaps best known for his “Moody’s Mood For Love,” his masterful 1949 improvisation on “In the Mood for Love,” which later became a pop hit sung by King Pleasure with lyrics by Eddie Jefferson. Since, “Moody’s Mood For Love” has been interpreted over the years by a long list of top artists including Sarah Vaughan, Quincy Jones, Van Morrison, Brian McKnight, Queen Latifah, and Amy Winehouse.  It was as also included in the “Jersey Boys” musical score.

Moody was also known as the genial musical alter ego of the great trumpeter and bandleader Dizzy Gillespie. His musical partnership and deep friendship lasted, with some interruptions, until Gillespie’s death in 1993.

“Playing with Moody is like playing with a continuation of myself,” Gillespie once said. Moody later responded, “I felt the same way with him. He was my mentor, my teacher, my best friend, and my brother.”

Gillespie died of the same illness that took Moody’s life.

James Moody was born on March 25, 1925 in Savannah, GA and raised in Newark, NJ.

His mother, Ruby Hann Moody Watters, worked at one of Newark´s major insurance companies and raised Moody as a single parent. She was a defining influence in his life.  His father was a trumpet player whom Moody did not meet until he was 21.

Moody was born partially deaf. And because he sat at the back of the classroom and couldn’t hear his teacher, he was deemed mentally deficient and pushed to attend what was then called “a school for the retarded.” Horrified by the idea his mother chose to move to Newark, N.J. instead, so he could attend regular public school. Still, and even though he did well, after a medical exam diagnosed his hearing problem he was sent to the Bruce Street School for the Deaf St School for the Deaf. He graduated from Bruce and attended Arts High in Newark, N.J.

He was drafted by the Air Force in 1943 and was stationed in a segregated training center in Greensboro, N.C., where he was part of the band (1943-1946). Decades later, Moody still saddened and feeling the sting as he vividly recalled his experiences there. “German POW’s could go into town jump off the trucks and go into a restaurant with the MPs to eat, but I couldn’t go into the restaurant; and I’m an American serviceman.”

He got his first saxophone at the age of 16 as a gift from his uncle and while he had a lesson with a local teacher, he learned the rudiments of the instrument from the musicians in the Air Force’s whites-only band while playing in the “unofficial Negro band at the base. There were no Authorized Negro Air Force bands.”

While at the base he met Gillespie,who came with his band to play at the base at a place called The Big Top. Moody and fellow airman, trumpeter Dave Burns were invited by Gillespie to audition after their discharge for a new band he was organizing. They did. Burns was accepted but Moody was not because he recalled, “[arranger] Gil Fuller said that I didn’t play loud enough.”

Still, two months later he received a telegram that said “you start with us tonight.”  In his first night at the job, playing with the now-fabled 1946 Dizzy Gillespie’s big band at the Spotlite, in 52nd St, New York City, Moody’s band mates included Thelonious Monk, piano, Milt Jackson on vibes, Kenny Clarke on drums and Ray Brown on bass.

Soon after, his feature solo on “Emanon” established Moody as one of the leading tenor saxophonists in Bebop. “It was different than any blues solo that you had heard,” once recalled saxophonist Jimmy Heath. “Similar to what was coming out of Charlie Parker.”

In 1948, capitalizing on his early success, Moody recorded his first album as a leader (“James Moody and his Modernists” featuring Art Blakey and Chano Pozo).

In 1949, battling alcoholism, he left for Paris, France, to stay with his uncle.

“I went for two weeks and stayed three years,” he once said.

While in Paris, he became active playing and recording, including a memorable performance with Miles Davis and Tadd Dameron at the Paris International Festival de Jazz in the spring of 1949 and, later the same year, a workmanlike session in Sweden, with local musicians for Metronome. These sessions however, included a striking alto solo in “I’m In the Mood for Love.”  Without Moody’s knowledge, Eddie Jefferson put lyrics to it and in 1952, King Pleasure turned Moody’s solo with Jefferson’s lyrics it into a major pop hit. It became known as “Moody’s Mood for Love.”

In 1952 Moody returned to the States, organized a septet and crisscrossed the country as part of a revue that also featured Dinah Washington and Brook Benton. (For the arrangements he called on a young up and coming trumpeter and arranger, Quincy Jones)

In 1958, after a fire at The Blue Note Club in Philadelphia destroyed his band’s instruments, uniforms and arrangements, Moody, overwhelmed, checked himself into the Overbrook Hospital in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. He stayed six months and upon his release he recorded “Last Train from Overbrook,” one of his mid-career masterpieces.

In 1962 he dissolved his group and soon after he rejoined Gillespie, as part of the trumpeter’s exceptional quintet.  But by 1973 Moody decided to leave life on the road and stay at home to see his young daughter grow up, so he settled for the security and stability of a pit job in Las Vegas.

He stayed at the Las Vegas Hilton Orchestra for seven and a half years, playing in shows headlined by Bill Cosby, Glen Campbell, Liberace, Elvis Presley, The Osmonds, and Ann-Margaret among many others.

After his divorce in 1979, Moody resumed his jazz career receiving a boost in the mid 80’s with a Grammy nomination for his solo on Manhattan Transfer’s Vocalese album. In 1986 he returned to the recording studios leading his own group for “Something Special” (RCA/Novus).

The most significant development in this period, however was Moody meeting Linda McGowan, a real estate agent from San Diego, at a concert in Los Angeles in 1987.

In December of 1988 he came to San Diego to perform and met Linda again and three months later they were married. Moody’s best man was Dizzy Gillespie who flew in from Japan.

This made a profound change in Moody’s life as he settled in San Diego and found a personal stability he hadn’t had in years. As a tribute to Linda, Moody titled his fourth CD at RCA Novus “Honey,” her nickname.

In the 90’s, Moody once again rejoined Gillespie, now leading his United Nation Orchestra, and pushed forward with his own recording career. In 1990, Moody and Gillespie received a Grammy Award Nomination for their rendition of Gillespie’s “Get the Booty.”

Complementing his music work, Moody also appeared in Clint Eastwood’s 1997 film, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

This was also a time for recognition. He received an Honorary Doctorate Degree of Humane Letters from the Florida Memorial College, was inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame and received the prestigious 1998 Jazz Masters Fellowship Award granted by the National Endowment for The Arts. On July 22nd 2000, Moody was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the Berklee College of Music, which was presented to him in Perugia, Italy.

Last year, Moody was again nominated for a Grammy, this time for “Best Jazz Instrumental Solo” for his work in Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival, with the Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary All-Stars.

In 2005, Moody and his wife Linda founded the James Moody Scholarship Endowment at Purchase College, N.Y. “We created the scholarship to give kids a chance to have the musical education that I never had,” he once explained. “Education is the key to everything.”

Earlier this year, the Moodys created a new scholarship, “The James Moody Scholarship Fund for Newark Youth” in Moody’s hometown of Newark, New Jersey, with the objective of helping “ talented youth where the idea of going to college wasn’t even on their radar.”

James Moody is survived by wife, Linda, daughter Michelle Bagdanove, a brother Lou Watters, sons Patrick, Regan, & Danny McGowan, 4 grandchildren, and a great-grandson.

There will be a viewing in the morning prior to a graveside service at 12:30 pm at Greenwood Cemetery, Greenwood Memorial Park, 4300 Imperial Ave, San Diego, CA 92113, 619-264 3131.

Celebration of the Life of James Moody will be held at Faith Chapel, 9400 Campo Road, Spring Valley, CA, 91977-1202, 619-461 7451 at 2 pm.

The services are open to the public.

In lieu of flowers the family asks that donations be made to:

CFNJ/ James Moody Jazz Scholarship Fund for Newark Youth

Post Office Box 338

Morristown, New Jersey  07963-0338

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