Jazz Stories
12:20 pm
Sat December 18, 2010

Bob Perkins Remembers Jazz Icon James Moody


The virtuoso jazz saxophonist and flutist James Moody died on December 9, 2010 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 85. Moody (as he liked to be called) was best known, in general, for the song, "Moody's Mood for Love," a vocal version of Moody's instrumental interpretation of the vintage standard, "I'm in the Mood for Love."

Moody's treatment was very well received when it was released in the late 1940s. But the vocal version of the song, performed a few years later on record, and in duet by King Pleasure and Blossom Dearie, became a monster hit, and shoved Moody, Pleasure, and Dearie well into the international spotlight. A few years later, Moody's manager, vocalist Eddie Jefferson-who actually wrote the words to "Moody's Mood for love"--also recorded the song, which again, didn't hurt Moody's popularity one bit.

Although known throughout his career for both his version, and the vocal versions of the song, there was so much more to James Moody than the reworking and rewording of the piece from which it came.

A great musician and bandleader, Moody mastered the alto and tenor saxophones and the flute. He would ultimately become internationally renowned on his own because of his musicianship, his more than 60 years as an entertainer, and his stage presence. He was a raconteur, and held audiences by both his storytelling and his horn playing.

Moody appeared in Philadelphia clubs quite often; on one inauspicious occasion in 1958, while appearing at the Blue Note at 15th and Ridge, the place caught fire, and the establishment along with Moody's band equipment and arrangements went up in flames. Shortly after the incident, he checked himself into a mental facility in New Jersey known as the Overbrook Sanitarium. The six-month stay had to do with a combination of situations, which included the pressures of the road, the loss of his band's equipment, and a growing dependence on alcohol. But fate's mighty and often complex hand moved again in Moody's favor, and upon departure from Overbrook, he unknowingly penned what would be another signature song, titled "Last Train from Overbrook."

Most of those who took to the song, didn't immediately know the story behind it, but liked it anyway because the title and the music were so cool, and seemed to intimate that there was indeed some kind of fascinating story behind them.

James Moody maintained a high profile in jazz for more than six decades. His 1950s Last Train from Overbrook album is a classic, as is his Flute 'n the Blues, both on the old Chess label.

Moody passed away a few weeks ago, at the age of 85. He was known as a jazz giant - a kind and gentle soul, and an inspiration to legions of fellow jazz men. Bill Cosby classified him as a national treasure.

Since so many spoke so well of him, maybe Moody's mood was, in great part, love. --BP

More Information:

From NPR: Remembering James Moody's Humble Gift for Music

NPR Jazz Profile: James Moody - In The Mood

NPR's A Blog Supreme: James Moody, Genial Jazz Reedman, Dies