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James Moody (saxophonist)

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James Moody
James Moody with Todd Coolman at a jazz festival
James Moody with Todd Coolman at a jazz festival
Background information
Born(1925-03-26)March 26, 1925
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
DiedDecember 9, 2010(2010-12-09) (aged 85)
San Diego, California, U.S.
Instrument(s)Saxophone, flute
Years active1947–2010
LabelsNovus, Prestige

James Moody (March 26, 1925[1] – December 9, 2010)[2] was an American jazz saxophone and flute player and very occasional vocalist, playing predominantly in the bebop and hard bop styles. The annual James Moody Jazz Festival is held in Newark, New Jersey.

Moody had an unexpected hit with "Moody's Mood for Love", a 1952 song written by Eddie Jefferson that used as its melody an improvised solo that Moody had played on a 1949 recording of "I'm in the Mood for Love". Moody adopted the song as his own, recording it with Jefferson on his 1956 album Moody's Mood for Love and performing the song regularly in concert, often singing the vocals himself.

Early life[edit]

James Moody was born in Savannah, Georgia, United States,[1] and was raised by his (single) mother, Ruby Hann Moody Watters.[3] He had a brother, Louis.[4] Growing up in Newark, New Jersey,[5] he was attracted to the saxophone after hearing Lester Young, "Buddy" George Holmes Tate, Don Byas, and various saxophonists who played with Count Basie. When he was 16 years old, his Uncle Louis bought him his first saxophone, an alto. His first playing models were Jimmy Dorsey followed by Charlie Barnet and George Auld, but early on was a self-taught ear player learning mostly from listening to records.[6]


Moody joined the US Army Air Corps in 1943 and played in the "negro band" at the segregated Greensboro Training Center.[7][8] According to Moody,

And then I was drafted into the Air Force. And they said, "Does anyone here play an instrument? No - they said, "Does anyone here have an instrument?" And I said, "Yeah, I've got one." They said, "Send for it." They didn`t ask if you could play it, they just said if you had it. I said yeah. So I sent for the instrument and they formed a band...And they had the official Air Force Band come over and teach the Negro band. And after about a year or so, man, our band was really nice, it sounded good. So they would come over and listen to our band. And I made some good friends with some of the guys... [6]

Following his discharge from the military in 1946, he played bebop with Dizzy Gillespie[2] for two years. Moody later played with Gillespie in 1964, where his colleagues in the Gillespie group, pianist Kenny Barron and guitarist Les Spann, would be musical collaborators in the coming decades.

In 1948, he recorded for Blue Note, his first session in a long recording career playing both saxophone and flute. That same year he relocated to Europe, where he stayed for three years, saying he had been "scarred by racism" in the U.S.[8] His European work, including the first recording of "Moody's Mood for Love", which became a hit in 1952,[9] saw him add the alto saxophone to his repertoire and helped to establish him as recording artist in his own right, and formed part of the growth of European jazz. Then in 1952, he returned to the U.S. to a recording career with Prestige Records and others, playing flute and saxophone in bands that included musicians such as Pee Wee Moore and others.

Even up to recording "Moody's Mood for Love", Moody was still an ear player. It wasn't until he returned to the U.S. and toured with The Brook Benton Revue (with The James Moody Orchestra) that he became acquainted with music theory, crediting Tom McIntosh with explaining to him chord changes.[6]

Moody and his Orchestra performed for the eleventh famed Cavalcade of Jazz concert held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles which was produced by Leon Hefflin, Sr. on July 24, 1955, and also featured Big Jay McNeely, Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, The Medallions and The Penguins.[10]

In the 1960s, he rejoined Dizzy Gillespie. He later worked also with Mike Longo.[11]

In 1997, Moody appeared as William Glover, the law firm's porter, in Clint Eastwood's movie adaptation of John Berendt's novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.[12][2]

In a 1998 interview with Bob Bernotas, Moody stated that he believed jazz has definite spiritual resonance.[11]

The James Moody Quartet (with pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Todd Coolman, and drummer Adam Nussbaum) was Moody's vehicle later in his career. Moody played regularly with Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band and also often collaborated with former Gillespie alumnus, the trumpeter-composer-conductor Jon Faddis; Faddis and Moody worked in 2007 with the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany under the direction of Michael Abene. And along with Faddis, toured in 1986 with the Philip Morris Superband hosting artists like Hammond organist Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell, Grady Tate and Barbara Morrison. Included in this line-up were Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Jimmy Heath, Kenny Washington, Slide Hampton and Monty Alexander on a four-country, 14-city one-month tour of 18 concerts, notably in Australia, Canada, Japan and the Philippines, starting on September 3, 1986, with its first concert in Perth, Australia. The Philip Morris Superband concept started a year previous in 1985.

Awards and honors[edit]

Two months after his death, Moody won the Grammy Award posthumously for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for his album Moody 4B.

The New Jersey Performing Arts Center hosts the James Moody Jazz Festival.[13][14]

Personal life[edit]

Moody was married three times; the first two ended in divorce. His third marriage was to the former Linda Petersen McGowan, whom he married in 1989. He had a daughter, Michelle Moody Bagdanove, and through Linda, three step-sons, Regan, Danny and Patrick McGowan.[4] Moody and his wife resided in San Diego.

He was an active member of the Baháʼí Faith.[11] He investigated and took up the faith after his friend Dizzy Gillespie died. For a time, he held belief in the ancient astronaut theory detailed in Zecharia Sitchin's book The 12th Planet, sometimes advocating it to listeners at live events.[6]

In 2005, the Moodys established the Moody Scholarship Fund[15] at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College-State University of New York (SUNY Purchase). Moody was awarded an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship in 1998 and often participated in educational programming and outreach, including with the International Association for Jazz Education, or IAJE.

Moody was fluent in Italian.


On November 2, 2010, Moody's wife announced on his behalf that he had pancreatic cancer, and had chosen not to have it treated aggressively. After palliative care, Moody died in San Diego, on December 9, 2010, from complications resulting from the cancer.[2]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Art Farmer

With Gil Fuller

With Dizzy Gillespie

With The Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Stars

  • Dizzy's World directed by Jon Faddis (Shanachie, 1999)
  • Things to Come (Telarc, 2001)

With The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band

  • Dizzy's Business (MCG Jazz, 2006)
  • I'm Be Boppin' Too (Half Note, 2009)

With Dexter Gordon

With Milt Jackson

With Elvin Jones

With Quincy Jones

With Charles Mingus

With Max Roach

  • New Sounds: Max Roach Quintet/Art Blakey's Band (Blue Note, 1952)

With Lalo Schifrin

With Bobby Timmons

With Cedar Walton

With Tubby Hayes

  • Return Visit! (Fontana, 1962) Credited as "Jimmy Gloomy"

With Roberta Gambarini

  • Easy To Love (Groovin' High/Kindred Rhythm, 2006) Moody plays tenor sax and sings with Roberta on "Lover Man" and "Centerpiece".
  • So In Love (Groovin' High/EmArcy/UMe, 2009)


  1. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 1739/40. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ a b c d George Varga, Obituary Sign on San Diego (December 9, 2010). Retrieved March 26, 2011.
  3. ^ John Fordham, "James Moody obituary", The Guardian, December 10, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Peter Keepnews, "James Moody, Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 85", The New York Times (December 10, 2010). Retrieved March 26, 2011.
  5. ^ "The State of Jazz: Meet 40 More Jersey Greats", The Star-Ledger, September 28, 2003, backed up by the Internet Archive as of September 27, 2008. Accessed September 15, 2017. "James Moody -- Moody, the remarkable San Diego, Calif.-based saxophonist, flutist and vocalist, was raised in Newark, and did a good deal of early playing there."
  6. ^ a b c d Moody, James; Rowe, Monk. "James Moody interviewed by Monk Rowe, San Diego, California, February 13, 1998". Hamilton College Library Digital Collections. Hamilton College Fillius Jazz Archive. Retrieved 26 March 2024.
  7. ^ James Moody Biography, musicianguide.com. Retrieved April 17, 2022.
  8. ^ a b Moody's Mood for Bop by Patrick Ambrose The Morning News
  9. ^ Allmusic biography
  10. ^ “11th Cavalcade of Jazz – Wrigley Field July 24” Article Los Angeles Sentinel June 30, 1955.
  11. ^ a b c Bob Bernotas, Interview with James Moody Archived 2007-01-07 at the Wayback Machine MelMartin.com (1999) Retrieved March 26, 2011.
  12. ^ James Moody - National Endowment for the Arts
  13. ^ "TD Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival". NJPAC. Archived from the original on 2012-09-13. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  14. ^ Tammy La Gorce, "A Week of Jazz and Remembrance", The New York Times, October 5, 2012.
  15. ^ "The James Moody Scholarship at Purchase College" Archived 2011-09-28 at the Wayback Machine, Purchase College-State University of New York. Retrieved March 26, 2011.

External links[edit]