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God damn it, James Moody. You can’t die and let the last thing I wrote about you be a negative review of your tribute concert in DC this summer.
At the time, I quoted DC Jazz Festival producer Charlie Fishman as announcing that “James recently had a surgical procedure done, so unfortunately he couldn’t be with us tonight.” Months later we learned that the surgical procedure was part of the treatment for the pancreatic cancer Moody was battling. He lost the battle this afternoon at age 85, reports the San Diego Tribune.
A tenor saxophonist, Moody hit the jazz scene as part of the second wave of the bebop movement, performing with Dizzy Gillespie‘s big band from 1946-48. Moody’s reputation was strongest as a tremendously happy stage presence, and, especially, as an improviser. Though he’s best known by far as the composer of “Moody’s Mood for Love,” it was in fact spontaneously composed as an improvised solo to the standard “I’m in the Mood for Love” in 1949.
He recorded with many other bands as well as under his own name —- but the Gillespie connection would remain perhaps the central one of his career. In fact, the tribute concert at the Lincoln Theater last June was largely built on that association; the lineup, minus Moody, was almost entirely comprised of musicians he’d first worked with in Dizzy’s bands. His most frequent collaborators (pianist Kenny Barron, trumpeter Jon Faddis) were likewise Gillespie alumna. Still, Moody was unquestionably a tower of jazz in his own right. Just a few months ago, he released what will now be his last album, 4B; the record caught him in a mellow temperament that showed his age, but also revealed a thoughtfulness and reservoir of emotion that remained undimmed by his years or his illness. But if he’d made the Washington gig, it might very well have been his final bow.
God damn it, James Moody.