James Moody's prolific career stretched over six decades and across many musical styles. He released this, his final recording, earlier this year. For all his diversity, Moody was a bebopper at heart. And when I asked about some of his most satisfying musical moments, he was quick to mention his tenure with bop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie.
"Well Paul I'll tell ya, few nights ago I was at Grant Park in Chicago, and they were doing a tribute to Dizzy. And Milt Jackson and myself, we were guests with the band. And I looked at Bags and I said 'damn, Bags, do you realize that we played this 50 years ago?' And Bag's said 'ya, man ain't that something?' And Bags said to me 'you remember you had a solo and I had to goose you and make you get up there and stand up and play, you were too bashful to play?' And I said 'I remember, man.' That was one of the great moments, but with Dizzy, I had many great moments."
It was in 1946, while playing in Gillespie's big band, that the 21-year old Moody caught the attention of fans and critics with this solo on a tune called "Emanon."
Moody played with Gillespie off and on for 47 years. He also led his own bands. In the fifties one of those bands recorded songs supplied by a struggling young arranger named Quincy Jones. Moody and wife Linda pick up the story.
"When Quincy talks about this, this is one of the thing remember Quincy told you about… tell 'em honey. (Linda Moody) He thought it was just the greatest band ever and he said I owe my life to Moody because he paid me twelve dollars per arrangement and that kept me eating. (James Moody) For the arrangements, wasn't that something for him to say that? (Conley) When you look at what Quincy makes nowadays!"
Quincy Jones is one of dozens of artists over the years who have recorded "Moody's Mood For Love," the song that made James Moody a household name after it was released in 1949.. Even though he's been interviewed about it countless times, Moody was charactericstically gracious when I asked about the famous tune.
"(Conley) At the time obviously you had no idea I'm sure that that was gonna become what it did. But as you look back now, how do you feel about that one solo? (Moody) I think that one solo is what kept me going. Because no matter where I go, if I don't do that, I haven't been there. I'm gonna do it tonight. We used to do that number four or five times a night."
"(Moody) But now, like at least I'll do it once a night. (Conley) Now when you play it, your original solo, does that become the head and then you improvise on that? (Moody) No all I do is sing it. I just sing it. And then sometimes somebody might ask 'would you play it?' Then I'll play it. But usually I just sing it now. If you want to call that singing, what I do (laughter)"
James Moody did indeed sing "Moody's Mood For Love" that September night in 1996, much to the delight of a packed house at Sacramento Crest Theatre.