We knew it was coming. That doesn’t make it easier. James Moody died this afternoon of the pancreatic cancer he had known about for nearly a year but did not make public until November. He was 85. Moody was in hospice in San Diego, his hometown for many years. His wife Linda was by his side, as she was almost every moment since they met.
Moody became famous for his solo on “I’m In The Mood For Love,” a record he made when he was 24. His friend Eddie Jefferson put a lyric to it and it became “Moody’s Mood For Love.” The lengthy obituary by George Varga in The San Diego Union-Tribune contains a passage about Moody’s reaction to the fuss over the record. It captures the combination of modesty, confidence and kindness that endeared him to everyone with whom he came in contact.
“I don’t pay any attention to that stuff,” he said. “When I made that record, I was a tenor saxophonist playing alto for the first time on record and I was trying to find the right notes, to be truthful. People later said to me: ‘You must have been very inspired when you recorded that.’ And I said: ‘Yeah I was inspired to find the right notes!’ ”
He recorded “Moody’s Mood for Love” in Sweden in 1949, during a European visit that started as a three-week vacation and lasted several years. Being abroad was an eye-opening experience for Mr. Moody, who never forgot the racism he encountered here in his native country, both before and after his European sojourn.
“In America, I thought there was something wrong with me,” said Mr. Moody, who recalled how, as an Air Force private in North Carolina, he was not allowed to eat in the same restaurants where German prisoners of war dined.
“In Paris, they treated me like they treated each other, which was altogether different from how they treated me here. When I was in France, I said: `Ah, it isn’t me (that’s the problem in America), it’s them.’ I felt good, and now I know there’s no one in this world who’s better than me. By the same token, I’m not better than anyone else.”
Moody’s funeral will be in San Diego on December 18. Details are in the Union-Tribune obituary. Peter Keepnews’s obituary in The New York Times has an extensive review of Moody’s career from his earliest days with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in the early 1940s. For previous Rifftides pieces about Moody, go here and here.
The last time we were together, we were in a roomful of friends enjoying dinner and one another’s company. During a round of toasts I caught Moody raising his glass of water with lemon just after he said, “To us. To life.”