[Marxism] James Moody, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 85

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 10 08:07:01 MST 2010

NY Times December 10, 2010
James Moody, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 85

James Moody, a jazz saxophonist and flutist celebrated for his 
virtuosity, his versatility and his onstage ebullience, died on 
Thursday in San Diego. He was 85 and lived in San Diego.

His death, at a hospice in San Diego, was confirmed by his wife, 

In November 2010, Mr. Moody revealed that he had pancreatic cancer 
and had decided against receiving chemotherapy or radiation 
treatment. He underwent surgery in February to have his gall 
bladder and blockage in his digestive system removed.

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 

The self-effacing humor of that comment was characteristic of Mr. 
Moody, who took his music more seriously than he took himself. His 
fellow 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 

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 his noticeable lisp, a 
result of having been born partly deaf, added to the comic effect.

The song he sang most often had a memorable name and an unusual 
history. Based on the harmonic structure of “I’m in the Mood for 
Love,” it began life as an instrumental when Mr. Moody recorded it 
in Stockholm in 1949, improvising an entirely new melody on a 
borrowed alto saxophone. Released as “I’m in the Mood for Love” 
(and credited to that song’s writers) even though his rendition 
bore only the faintest resemblance to the original tune, it was a 
modest hit for Mr. Moody in 1951. It became a much bigger hit 
shortly afterward when the singer Eddie Jefferson wrote lyrics to 
Mr. Moody’s improvisation and another singer, King Pleasure, 
recorded it as “Moody’s Mood for Love.”

“Moody’s Mood for Love” (which begins with the memorable lyric 
“There I go, there I go, there I go, there I go ...”) became a 
jazz and pop standard, recorded by Aretha Franklin, George Benson 
and others, and a staple of Mr. Moody’s concert and nightclub 
performances as sung by Mr. Jefferson, who was a member of his 
band for many years. Mr. Jefferson was shot to death in 1979; when 
Mr. Moody, who was in the middle of a long hiatus from jazz at the 
time, resumed his career a few years later, he began singing the 
song himself. He never stopped.

James Moody — he was always Moody, never James, Jim or Jimmy, to 
his friends and colleagues — was born in Savannah, Ga., on March 
26, 1925, and raised in Newark. Despite being hard of hearing, he 
gravitated toward music and began playing alto saxophone at 16, 
later switching to tenor. He played with an all-black Army Air 
Forces band during World War II. After being discharged in 1946, 
he auditioned for Gillespie, who led one of the first big bands to 
play the complex and challenging new form of jazz known as bebop. 
He failed that audition but passed a second one a few months 
later, and soon captured the attention of the jazz world with a 
brief but fiery solo on the band’s recording of the Gillespie 
composition “Emanon.”

Mr. Moody’s career was twice interrupted by alcoholism. The first 
time, in 1948, he moved to Paris to live with an uncle while he 
recovered. He returned to the United States in 1951 to capitalize 
on the success of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” forming a 
seven-piece band that mixed elements of modern jazz and rhythm and 
blues. After a fire at a Philadelphia nightclub destroyed the 
band’s equipment, uniforms and sheet music in 1958, he began 
drinking again and checked himself into Overbrook, a psychiatric 
hospital in Cedar Grove, N.J., for several months. He celebrated 
his recovery by writing and recording the up-tempo blues “Last 
Train From Overbrook,” which became one of his best-known 

In 1963 he reunited with Gillespie, joining his popular quintet. 
He was extensively featured as both a soloist and the straight man 
for Gillespie’s between-songs banter, sharpening his musical and 
comedic skills at the same time. He left Gillespie in 1969 to 
again try his luck as a bandleader, but met with limited success; 
four years later he left jazz entirely to work in Las Vegas hotel 
orchestras, first at the Flamingo and later at the Hilton.

“The reason I went to Las Vegas,” he told Saxophone Journal in 
1998, “was because I was married and had a daughter and I wanted 
to grow up with my kid. I was married before and I didn’t grow up 
with the kids. So I said, ‘I’m going to really be a father.’ I did 
much better with this one because at least I stayed until my 
daughter was 12 years old. And that’s why I worked Vegas, because 
I could stay in one spot.”

After seven years of pit-band anonymity, providing accompaniment 
for everyone from Milton Berle to Ike and Tina Turner to Liberace, 
Mr. Moody divorced his wife and returned to the East Coast to 
resume his jazz career. The final three decades of his life were 
active and productive, with frequent touring and recording (as the 
leader of his own small group and, on occasion, as a sideman with 
Gillespie, who died in 1993) and even a brief foray into acting, 
with a bit part in the 1997 Clint Eastwood film “Midnight in the 
Garden of Good and Evil,” set in Mr. Moody’s birthplace, Savannah.

The National Endowment for the Arts named him a Jazz Master in 
1998. “Moody’s Mood for Love” was named to the Grammy Hall of Fame 
in 2001. His last album, “Moody 4B,” was recorded in 2008 and 
released in 2010 on the IPO label.

Mr. Moody, who was divorced twice, is survived by his wife of 21 
years, Linda, and three sons, Patrick, Regan and Danny, all of 

For all his accomplishments, Mr. Moody always saw his musical 
education as a work in progress. “I’ve always wanted to be around 
people who know more than me,” he told The Hartford Courant in 
2006, “because that way I keep learning.”

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