The Ancestors Take Home Jazz Saxophonist and Flautist James Moody, 85
When I sought to recreate my stepdad’s jazz collection a couple of years back, James Moody‘s Moody with Strings was one of the hardest to find for him. Only the Japanese, who have a penchant for all things jazz, had it for special order, and the CD was over $30. In a phone call yesterday, I told him the news that another of his favorites had died. His daughter has the CD player I gave him in Texas; he is in New Orleans. I know that if he had it near him, he would have played Moody yesterday for all of the good times.
James Moody, an international jazz star since 1949 and a San Diego resident since 1989, has played his last refrain. An acclaimed saxophonist, flutist, composer and band leader for 60 of his 85 years, Mr. Moody died Thursday at 1:07 p.m. at the San Diego Hospice, according to his wife, San Diego Realtor Linda McGowan Moody, who was by his side. His death came after a 10-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
“He couldn’t have gone more peacefully,” said Mrs. Moody, who on Monday had her husband moved from their San Carlos home to the San Diego Hospice.
Pulitzer Prize-winning jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis hailed Mr. Moody, with whom he had often collaborated at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, as “a titan of our music.” He also praised Mr. Moody as “just impeccable, his musicianship, his soul, his humor.”
Mr. Moody first achieved prominence in 1946 as a member of bebop trumpet icon Dizzy Gillespie’s all-star big band. Noted for his ebullient stage persona and his ability to inject warmth and joy into even his most intricate compositions, Mr. Moody leaves behind one of the longest and most distinguished jazz careers in memory.
He recorded his best-known hit, “Moody’s Mood for Love,” in 1949. An ingenious interpretation of the 1935 ballad “I’m in the Mood for Love,” the title under which Mr. Moody’s recording was initially released, it features one of the most acclaimed saxophone solos in jazz history. It became a global vocal hit in 1954 for singer King Pleasure, who sang lyrics that were written for the song in 1952 by noted jazz vocalist Eddie Jefferson. Mr. Moody subsequently began singing it himself and performed it as his theme song at each of his concerts.
“Moody’s Mood for Love” was elected into the Grammy Awards’ Hall of Fame in 2001 and has been recorded by such diverse artists as Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Rod Stewart, Queen Latifah, Tito Puente and 2006 “American Idol” contestant Elliott Yamin.
I am pressed for time today, but I would like to add that mourners like Bill Cosby, Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis, and George Wein are speaking out in reverence and praise of this master.
If you visit You Tube, they have a series of interviews of James Moody done by The Visionary Project: about what he thinks of music today, his views of the late Dizzy Gillespie, his schooling in a deaf school in Georgia, about race relations, being an expatriate in France, and how he put together his first band.
Mr. Moody and his wife did not publicly disclose his cancer until Nov. 2, until then confiding his condition only to immediate family members and a few close friends.
He underwent surgery Feb. 28 at UCSD Thornton Hospital to have his pancreatic cancer tumor resected, but his doctors determined it would be impossible to do so without endangering his life. Instead, his gall bladder was removed and a double bypass was performed on his digestive system to remove blockage.
Mr. Moody opted not to receive any chemo therapy or radiation treatment. While his health weakened, he maintained his characteristically upbeat demeanor almost to the end. He would pick up his saxophone or flute, even if only for a few minutes, whenever he could, as befits a master musician who was constantly striving to learn more about music and improve on his instrument.
“My goal is that I want to play better tomorrow than I did today, because I’m not in competition with anyone else,” Mr. Moody noted in a 2005 Union-Tribune interview.”If you try to do that, to compete, you’d better give up, because there’s always somebody, somewhere, who has more going on. And that’s what makes jazz so beautiful, that’s what makes the world beautiful.
“If you’re practicing something you’ve played before, you’re not practicing. You have to play something new. There are hundreds of ways to play a major scale, and then when you add a harmonic minor and a natural minor and a natural minor flat fifth, you get something new. You’ll never get it all, but you keep trying.”
In addition to his third wife, Linda, Mr. Moody is survived by a brother, Lou Watters; a daughter, Michelle Bagdanove; sons Patrick, Regan and Danny McGowan; four grandchildren and one great grandson.
A public funeral service will be held Dec. 18 at 12:30 p.m. at Greenwood Memorial Park, followed by a public celebration of his life at 2 p.m. at Faith Chapel in Spring Valley. In lieu of flowers, the Moody family has requested that donations be sent to the CFNJ James Moody Jazz Scholarship for Newark Youth Fund, P.O. Box 338, Morristown, N.J., 07963-0338.
His website is here, along with further news about his life, music, and demise.
James Moody was an active member of the Ba’hai faith until his death.
Bless you, Mr. Moody, and come back to us again.