James Moody: Revered jazz saxophonist and flautist who formed a charismatic partnership with Dizzy Gillespie

Although he counts as a Bebop pioneer, James Moody's work had the elements of basic jazz at its root.

His role as Dizzy Gillespie's musical partner sometimes cast him in shadow, but he was a match for the trumpeter in every aspect of his playing. His powerful sense of humour also went to generate the charisma in which the two men bathed their audiences.

Few musicians swung harder than Moody and his mastery of the blues was part of his unique eloquence. Technique came easily to him and his fluency on the tenor and alto saxes and on the flute was unrivalled. He was born in Georgia, but grew up in Newark, New Jersey. "I think I was almost 17 when I was given an alto sax in the school orchestra," he told me. "At that time I didn't know my head from a hole in the ground, but when I was drafted into the US Air Force in 1943 I really got to be familiar with the instrument.

"My mother bought me a tenor just before I got drafted. I was stationed in Greensboro, North Carolina and Dizzy's big band came to play at the base. He told me that he was going to regroup the orchestra and since I was due for discharge in a month or so he suggested I should come to New York and try out for him. He didn't hear me play. I'd just told him I was in the camp band."

Moody became a member of Gillespie's second great big band, formed in 1946. They recorded a session for RCA Victor almost immediately and the half-dozen tracks remain classics, not least "Emanon" (spell it backwards), which included Moody's first solo on record. At that time "modern jazz" was still controversial, and sales didn't encourage RCA Victor to press on further.

"In those days with Dizzy I was making $17 a night and I always had money, so as far as I'm concerned that's the answer to the question of the band's success," Moody said. "People would look at us like we were crazy, especially on the tour down south. They just couldn't understand it. The band did a tour with Ella Fitzgerald and in a couple of places the people wanted to run us out of town! They thought it was just noise and they couldn't distinguish the music we were playing."

In 1947 Moody toured Europe with Gillespie and in 1948 made the first recordings under his own name for Blue Note. But his first huge success came when he returned to Europe as a soloist in 1949. He made an innocuous-looking recording of "I'm In The Mood For Love" with a small Swedish group, playing alto sax on record for the first time. When it was later issued in the US it became, in jazz terms, a huge hit, to the extent that it was forever known simply as "Moody's Mood For Love". Lyrics were written to Moody's improvisation and were later recorded by, among others, Van Morrison, Aretha Franklin and Amy Winehouse.

In our talks Moody was unrealistically modest. "Throughout my years with Dizzy I played tenor, and I didn't play alto at all professionally until I made 'Moody's Mood For Love'. As a matter of fact 'Moody's Mood' is the only reason I have a career. There are so many saxophone players who are fantastic musicians, and the only reason I'm known from them is because of that record."

Between 1949 and 1951 Moody spent most of his time in Europe, playing in the Miles Davis Quintet at the 1949 Paris Jazz Fair and deputising for Charlie Parker on one of Max Roach's recordings there. He worked with Kenny Clarke's band in Paris and Tunisia and backed Coleman Hawkins when Hawk toured Europe.

Although he recorded in Zurich he split most of his time between Paris and Stockholm until in 1951 he returned to New York, where for the next five years he led a septet featuring the singers Babs Gonzales and Eddie Jefferson. From 1958 he also played flute in his bands. But he tired of the responsibility of leading and, in 1962, worked in bands led by fellow tenors Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt.

At the beginning of 1963 he was reunited with Gillespie in Dizzy's quintet and the two consolidated their brilliant partnership while also managing to cavort delightfully on stage throughout the next six years. Yet there was a more serious side. Moody had a strong philosophical sway on Gillespie, who became a much more responsible person under Moody's influence. While other musicians would be found at the bar, Gillespie and Moody would usually find a quiet spot where they could play chess. Gillespie's pianist, Kenny Barron, had a high opinion of Moody.

"He's just an amazing person for so many reasons. Number one is just his boundless energy. Number two is his humility. He's just a great musician and a really great guy. We spent four years together with Dizzy and what used to amaze me is that he would eat these chord changes up and then come back and say, 'Man, does that sound OK?' And I'd say, 'Come on, Moody, are you kidding?' He's like the eternal student of music, and he keeps on getting better. The other thing I can say about Moody is I want to be like him when I grow up. He's just a real open-minded cat, and he brings so much to the music. He's open to what the younger guys are doing, interested in what it is and how they're doing it."

In 1973 he left jazz and worked for six years in the anonymous backing bands of Las Vegas casinos, but playing at the 1979 Nice Jazz Festival, reignited his desires for jazz. He returned to New York and led a band at Sweet Basil and in 1980 rejoined Gillespie. But by now he was establish-ed as a leader, and played at festivals worldwide under his own name; in 1988 he was a founder member of Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra and next year played in Paris with Jay McShann's All Star Band.

In 1990, after recording with Milt Jackson, he made his debut on the soprano saxophone for his album Honey. He and Gillespie received a Grammy nomination in 1990 for their scat singing and Moody received innumerable awards, culminating in a Jazz Master Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1998. The book James Moody's Greatest Transcribed Flute Solos appeared in 1975.

Moody had a voracious musical appetite and he drank deeply at the wells of Lester Young and John Coltrane. He never drank alcohol and his humour came from deep within his bones. In later years he delighted audiences with his perfected jazz yodelling and he wasn't above trying his hand at Pavarotti on stage as well.

James Moody, saxophonist, flautist, bandleader: born Savannah, Georgia 26 March 1925; married (three sons, one daughter); died San Diego, 9 December 2010

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Grad / Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultant - Oil & Gas

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000. : SThree: Progressive Global Energy a...

Commercial Property

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices