Remembering James Moody

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"My goal in life is to play better tomorrow than I did yesterday," James Moody told MT's jazz scribe Charles L. Latimer when they spoke for a January article. "I'm in competition with myself and nobody else."

That Moody vs. Moody competition, that internal drive to best himself as a jazz artist, is over -- and those of us who've savored hearing the saxophonist (and flutist, vocalist and showman) live or on records are the only winners now. Moody, who announced last month that he was fighting pancreatic cancer and had ended chemotherapy, died Thursday in San Diego, where he lived.

He was among the top echelon of serious jazz players whose work was known intimately -- if somewhat indirectly -- to the general public thanks to Eddie Jefferson who put words to Moody's highly original melodic take on "I'm in the Mood for Love." It was retitled "Moody's Mood for Love," and if you don't recognize the title, you probably know the opening refrain: "There I go, there I go, there I go, the-ere I go ...”

King Pleasure's version made the song a hit in the '50s, and it's been recorded and re-recorded ever since, with Aretha Franklin and George Benson among the artists putting their own spins on it.  But if that song was the popular tip of the Moody iceberg, jazz fans knew how much more was below the surface, wonderful work alongside the likes of Dizzy Gillespie (including Something Old, Something New, my favorite Diz record), more good tunes (and some great ones like "Last Train to Overbrook"), good discs as a leader up to the end (including 2008's Our Delight alongside the also now departed Hank Jones), a grand sense of humor (musical and verbal and otherwise, how else do you approach the "The Pink Panther"?), etc.His appearance at the Dirty Dog in January brought him before Detroiters for the last time.

With Charles, Moody talked about his career, the battle with alcoholism (reflected in the "Overbrook" tune), his Las Vegas hiatus from the jazz scene, his return and his constant battle to better himself as an artist.


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