James Moody, bop saxophonist, flutist, humorist: 3/25/25 – 12/9/10

Sad news: Jazz giant James Moody died of pancreatic cancer today, age 85. This is confirmed on Moody’s own website. A brilliant improviser who emerged from Dizzy Gillespie’s big band to join the young turks of bebop (Monk, Bags, Klook, Blakey) in the late 1940s, he became internationally admired for his tenor sax and flute mastery and on-stage good cheer, as when he’d sing both male and female parts to “Moody’s Mood for Love,” his etched-in-gold solo given lyrics by his pal Eddie Jefferson.


Never mind that Moody had a slight lisp, had been born partially deaf, was raised without his trumpet-playing father and didn’t get his first sax until age 16, learning to play well while at a severely segregated Air Force training center circa 1943. He was greatly revered in recent years — named a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master in 1999, and nominated for a Grammy Award as recently as 2009 (for Best Instrumental Solo on Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary All-Stars) — and for decades he delighted serious listeners by creating smart  music that was also full of warmth and wit.

Having been ill for some time, Moody died in the home he shared with his wife Linda in San Diego. One of the earliest jazz albums I got into was Live at the Museum of Modern Art, his quartet with Milt (Bags) Jackson with a funny (ha-ha) track called “Flying Saucer,” and I highly recommend it. But here‘s Moody similarly hip in 1965, playing “Mmm Hmm” (Gillespie stretches the introductions out ’til almost the middle of the clip):


In 2005, Moody and his wife founded
the James Moody Scholarship Endowment at Purchase College, N.Y. As detailed on his website, “We created the
scholarship to give kids a chance to have the musical education that I
never had. Education is the key to everything.” 

Earlier
this year
, the Moody’s created a new scholarship, “The
James Moody Scholarship Fund for Newark Youth” in Moody’s hometown of Newark,
New Jersey, to help “talented youth where the idea of
going to college wasn’t even on their radar.” Rather than flowers, Moody’s family asks that donations be made to that cause:

CFNJ/
James Moody Jazz Scholarship Fund for Newark Youth

Post
Office Box 338

Morristown,
New Jersey  07963-0338

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