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James Moody. Brad Barket/Getty Images Entertainment
Millions of listeners know James Moody, even if they don't know him by name. He composed one of the most enduring songs in American music, "Moody's Mood for Love," and he did it with on-the-spot improvisation. Even Aretha Franklin sang it. He's made an unforgettable film appearance, walking an invisible dog in Clint Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. He splashes more cologne than any one person should use, yet his kiss-on-both-cheeks greeting is treasured for its sincerity, even if the scent marks the recipient for the rest of the day.
Moody is one of bebop's finest practitioners, and he's made tremendous music for more than 60 years. As a partially deaf child in Newark, N.J., he battled the perception that he was mentally retarded (to use the term of the day). As a member of a segregated Air Force band, he suffered the indignity of racism in 1940s America. He battled an addiction to alcohol.
Yet there's no one with a sunnier disposition than James Moody, an indomitable spirit in jazz music. He's one of this country's great treasures, and the spirit of jazz is better for having him as one of the music's leading lights. Hear a handful of great Moody recordings here, but be sure to explore further. There's plenty more.
Note: James Moody has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he has decided against continued treatment. He is convalescing in his California home. If you'd like to send him a note, please contact him here.