Tuesday, December 14, 2010

James Moody - NPR segments and obituaries

Fresh Air Remembers Saxophonist James Moody
NPR's "Fresh Air," December 10, 2010

19-minute segment: http://www.npr.org/2010/12/10/131958862/
Remembering James Moody's Humble Gift for Music
NPR's "All Things Considered," December 10, 2010

Four-minute segment: http://www.npr.org/2010/12/10/131968314/
James Moody Dies at 85; Jazz Saxophonist and Flutist
by Don Heckman
Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2010

James Moody, a jazz saxophonist and flutist whose improvised solo on a recording of the song "I'm in the Mood for Love" became a jazz classic, died Thursday in San Diego, where he had lived in recent years. He was 85 and had pancreatic cancer.

His death was confirmed by a spokeswoman for the San Diego Hospice.

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."

Universally called by his last name by friends and fans alike, Moody was warm and amiable, invariably greeting acquaintances with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. The same qualities were present in his instrumental playing, as well, which matured in sync with the arrival of bebop in the mid-'40s. Quickly grasping the complexities of the new style, with its extended harmonies and shifting rhythms, Moody added an appealing melodic flow to his improvised solos, expressed in instrumental timbres approaching the qualities of the human voice.

"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," Moody's contemporary, saxophonist Jimmy Heath, told Down Beat magazine's Ted Panken. "He has true knowledge. He is in complete control."

Feather, reviewing a Moody performance for The Times in 1972, agreed. "Moody brings to his tenor saxophone an immense sound," he wrote. "Relying on the natural tone quality.... he offers hard-hitting, stimulating jazz, rooted in the idiom fathered by [Charlie] Parker and [Dizzy] Gillespie."

Like his lifelong friend and mentor, trumpeter Gillespie, Moody was able to find a convincing balance between entertainment and art -- a balance that eluded many of his contemporaries. In any given set, he would frequently juxtapose long, inventive improvisations against his witty vocal renderings of "Moody's Mood for Love," then switch to a humorous paraphrase of "Pennies from Heaven" titled "Benny's from Heaven," topped off with another briskly exploratory solo.

Moody's easygoing manner, wry humor and musical versatility served him well in a career in which he moved deftly from alto and tenor saxophones to clarinet and flute. His rich resume included -- in addition to his continuing jazz performances with small groups and big bands -- stints in which he backed the likes of Elvis Presley, Redd Foxx, Liberace and the Osmonds.

In 2005, he added an unusual sidebar to his busy career when he made a cameo appearance in the Clint Eastwood-directed film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" as a porter in a law office who walks an imaginary dog. Moody frequently joked about the fact that he only had one line to say: "Yessir. Patrick do like his morning walk."

The affection with which Moody was viewed by musicians, celebrities and fans was on full display in several musical parties celebrating his milestone birthdays. His 75th anniversary, which took place at New York City's Blue Note jazz club, was released as a live recording titled "Moody's Birthday."

"I think you're looking at a man who knows love and knows how to accept it and give it without hiding, without treating it as if it was some sort of weakness," Bill Cosby, who hosted Moody's 80th birthday celebration concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall, said in an interview with the Copley News Service. Moody "has taught me integrity, how to express love for your fellow human beings, and how to combine and contain manhood and maturity."

James Moody was born March 26, 1925, in Savannah, Ga., and was raised in Reading, Pa., and Newark, N.J. His father was a trumpeter, his mother a dedicated jazz fan.

"My mother loved jazz," he told Calvin Wilson in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "She had records by Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Jimmy Lunceford, and I heard those records playing at home. I'm thankful for that, because she could've been a doo-wop person, and that would have been a drag."

Moody was born with a hearing defect in his left ear. Initially undiagnosed, it made it difficult for him to hear questions in class. Because of his poor grades, he was sent to a school for retarded children. The malady was properly treated when he entered high school in Newark, where his grades improved and he began to play the alto saxophone, a gift from an uncle.

After serving in the Army Air Forces from 1943 to '46, Moody joined Gillespie's band and made his own first recording, "James Moody and His Bebop Men." He moved to Europe in the late '40s, remaining there until 1951, performing with Miles Davis and others, and recording "I'm in the Mood for Love."

Settling in New York City in the early '50s, he led various ensembles -- including a septet that played jazz-influenced rhythm and blues -- made a series of recordings for Argo, and worked with Gillespie, an association that would continue intermittently until Gillespie's death in 1993. A brief period working with Las Vegas show bands in the '70s was followed by a return to jazz and the leadership of his numerous ensembles. In the late '80s, he was a founding member of Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra.

Moody, a multiple Grammy nominee, was chosen an NEA Jazz Master in 1998.

Survivors include his wife of 21 years, Linda; a brother, Lou Watters; a daughter, Michelle Bagdanove; sons Patrick, Regan and Danny McGowan; four grandchildren and one great grandson.
James Moody, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 85
by Peter Keepnews
New York Times, December 10, 2010

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, Linda.

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 holder."

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 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 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 compositions.

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 California.

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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