Fresh Air Remembers Saxophonist James Moody The jazz saxophonist and flutist died Thursday at age 85. Fresh Air remembers the musician, whose 1949 improvisation over "I'm in the Mood for Love" became a jazz staple, with highlights from a 1996 interview.
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Fresh Air Remembers Saxophonist James Moody

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Fresh Air Remembers Saxophonist James Moody

Fresh Air Remembers Saxophonist James Moody

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Saxophonist James Moody died yesterday, after suffering from pancreatic cancer. He was 85 years old. Moody first became known for his 1949 recording of "I'm In the Mood for Love." His re-working of that melody was so good, it became the melody of a new song with a lyric by Eddie Jefferson called "Moody's Mood for Love." Here's James Moody's original 1949 recording.


BIANCULLI: James Moody began his career in 1947, in the early days of bebop, playing with Dizzy Gillespie's big band. By the end of the '40s, he'd left the band and moved to Europe. Moody returned to the States in the early '50s to lead his own band. He played with Gillespie again during much of the '60s, but in the '70s, Moody left the jazz scene to work a steady job in a Vegas hotel band.

When he returned to the jazz world, critic Gary Giddons(ph) wrote that there were few living musicians he enjoyed hearing perform more than Moody. Terry spoke with Moody in 1996, after the release of his delightful recording of songs associated with Frank Sinatra. Here's Moody singing on the title track, "Young At Heart."


Mr. JAMES MOODY (Musician): (Singing) Fairy tales can come true. It can happen to you if you're young at heart. For it's hard, you will find, to be narrow of mind if you're young at heart.

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes. You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams, and life gets more exciting with each passing day, and love is either in your heart or on its way.

Don't you know that it's worth every treasure on earth to be young at heart?

GROSS: James Moody, welcome to FRESH AIR. And I want to say that I think this new album is delightful, and it's really delightful to hear you sing and to sing a song that's not a novelty song.

Mr. MOODY: You know, when you have strings like that, it makes you think you can sing, you know.


GROSS: What do you think of your voice?

Mr. MOODY: Well, the funny thing is I'm not as concerned with my voice as I am with my lisp that I have, you know, because I'm partially deaf. And I was born that way, and it doesn't mean that I have a speech impediment, it's just that I don't hear S's so - because my wife always tell me when I'm singing "Mood for Love" that I'd say you give me a smile, and it sounds like you're saying you give me a mile.


Mr. MOODY: When I'm wrapped up in your magic, you know, in the lyrics.

GROSS: Well, has that held you back from singing? Are you self-conscious about that lisp?

Mr. MOODY: No, really not at all, because I say what I say. I've been doing it for 71 years, talking. So if I say, you know, fairy tales can come true. You know, I don't know, too true. It can happen to you if you're young at heart.


GROSS: Oh, I love that.


GROSS: How old were you when you realized you had a hearing problem?

Mr. MOODY: I was born that way, and I never realized it. I still haven't realized it because I hear what I hear, and that's it. See, if you don't know what you're missing, how can you say what I miss, you know what I mean?

They were insistent that I wear a hearing aid because I would hear so much better, and I put this hearing aid on, and I'm telling you, I thought I was going to go nuts with the clanging and banging that I hear, you know, banging, and you could hear the tires of the car. I said: Oh my goodness, if people hear this. I mean, it's nerve-wracking.

So what I did was I turned it off. And they said: Oh, isn't that much better? I said: It certainly is.


Mr. MOODY: You heard that joke, didn't you, Terry, about the guy says: Oh man, he says, boy, I just spent $4,000 on this wonderful hearing aid, you know. And the guy said: Yeah? What kind is it? The guy said: It's 12 o'clock.


GROSS: It took me a second, right. So did music sound different with the hearing aid?

Mr. MOODY: Oh, I wouldn't dare do that. I wouldn't dare put a hearing aide on and play music because if I put the hearing aid in, then it's banging and clanging again, or clinking, yeah.

GROSS: Tell us the story of the band that you played in in the Air Force, and this was right after you got out of college.

Mr. MOODY: Well, the band that played in the Air Force, it was an unauthorized Air Force band because when I was in the Air Force, it was segregated. So three-quarters of the base was Caucasian, and one-quarter was Negro. And they wanted to have a Negro band. So they formed one.

And then Linton Garner, Erroll Garner's brother, he was drafted, and he came to the base where we were, and then Pop Reeves(ph), he was drafted, and he wrote some things for Benny Goodman. And I never will forget Linton Garner, one day he asked me, he says: Moody, he said, play this scale for me.

So I said: (singing) Da, da, da, da, da, da, da.

And he said: Well. I said: Well, what? He said: Is that it? I said: Yeah. He said: My boy, you're in for a rude awakening.


Mr. MOODY: So anyway, but little by - but you know, I'd like to say one thing, Terry. When I was in Greenville, North Carolina, I was 18 years old, right? And I was living in Newark, New Jersey. Do you know that the German prisoners of war used to come into town and jump off the truck, you know, with the PW on their back and those hats and go into the restaurants and eat, and we couldn't?


Mr. MOODY: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you feel about serving in the Air Force, knowing that your own country wouldn't let you into certain restaurants?

Mr. MOODY: Well, what could you do? You see, because in the first place, like, there was nothing - when I - after I left and went to Europe and would live, I was living in France, I would send my mother a letter, and I'd have on there, it had, like, the land of the brave. I'd put the land of the (unintelligible), you know, or something, you know, USA. And my mother said: Jim, don't do that. I mean, you'll get in trouble, you know.

But hey, it was the truth, you know, because, like, it was their land, not mine.

GROSS: you joined the Gillespie big band after you got out of the Air Force.

Mr. MOODY: Yeah.

GROSS: And it was a very innovative band. It was one of the first big bands really playing the new music of bebop. What was it like for you to be in this band? What were the most exciting parts of it for you?

Mr. MOODY: Well, the most exciting about that band was when I grew older and found out where I was. When I first was in that band, Thelonious Monk was the piano player. Ray Brown was the bass player. Milton Jackson was vibraharpist. Kenny - Klook, Klook-mop - Clarke, he was the drummer. That was the rhythm section, along with Howard Johnson, Cecil Payne, all the people like that.

Now, if I would have known where I was, like I would have fainted.

GROSS: Sure.

Mr. MOODY: So I'm glad I was naive. I didn't - I wasn't that hip. So I didn't know who I was. I mean, I knew, but I didn't. You understand what I'm saying?

GROSS: Yes, I do. And what was Dizzy Gillespie like as a bandleader? I think you've called him your musical father.

Mr. MOODY: Oh, yeah. Dizz was wonderful, man. Like, we knew each other, and was all right, but I got to really know him better when I played in the quintet. But musically, I mean, he was a bad boy. He was bad.

And Dizz was always studying, too. Like, he would always - you know, he'd sit down at the piano and look at this, look at that, oh, look at this. And he'd stop me. He said: Moody, this is where everything is. See the piano? I don't care what the instrument is, that's where it is, trombone, violin, trumpet, saxophone, flute. This is where it is. You look at it, and you see everything.

When you play the piano, all the notes are laid out there for you, you know, and all those notes on every one of the instruments. So Dizz said: You want to really know what's happening, you learn the piano.

GROSS: Did you? Did you learn it?

Mr. MOODY: Well, I can play the changes, yeah, yeah, yeah. I can sit down, and I can pick out what I have to do.

BIANCULLI: Saxophonist James Moody, speaking to Terry Gross in 1996. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 1996 interview with saxophonist James Moody. He died yesterday at the age of 85.

GROSS: Your first solo was recorded with the Dizzy Gillespie Band. This tune is called "Emanon," which is no name spelled backwards. This is, I think, in 1947. Do you remember your solo on that record? Could you sing it?

Mr. MOODY: Yeah, I remember it. I remember it because I wasn't supposed to take the solo. The baritone player was supposed to take it and he didn't show up or something. And the solo was...


Mr. MOODY: Something like that.

GROSS: Now, how come you remember it? Do you remember it from actually playing it or from listening to the record?

Mr. MOODY: No because a lot of times when we see each other, like sometimes I'm talking to Jimmy Heath, and - section(ph) we called each other because he's a wonderful saxophoner. Some of the guys, and we'll talk, and somebody says, oh, yeah, man, you remember "Emanom?" Do it again.


Mr. MOODY: And we'd all sing it for a moment together.


GROSS: Now the most famous solo that you've ever taken was on your first recording of "I'm in the Mood For Love." And then Eddie Jefferson, a singer who was working with you, wrote a lyric to your solo, and that became the song known as "Moody's Mood for Love." Let's hear the Eddie Jefferson version of "Moody's Mood for Love," his lyric to your solo.


Mr. EDDIE JEFFERSON (Musician): (Singing) There I go, there I go, there I go, there I go. Pretty baby, you are the soul that snaps my control. Such a funny thing, but every time you're near me, I never can behave.

You give me a smile, and then I'm wrapped up in your magic. There's music all around me, crazy music, music that keeps calling me so very close to you, turns me your slave. (Unintelligible) anything, baby, just let me get next to you.

Am I insane, or do I really see heaven in your eyes, bright as stars that shine up above there in the clear blue sky? How I worry about you, just can't live my life without you. Baby, come here, don't have no fear. Oh, they wonder why I'm really feeling in the mood for love.

And tell me why...

GROSS: Now, what impact did "Moody's Mood for Love" have on your career?

Mr. MOODY: Well, if I don't do it to this day, people said I haven't been there. I think that goes to show you. Like no matter how much I practice, if I don't say there I go, there I go, or play, you know, then it's like I haven't been there.

But, like, I'm not - it doesn't make me feel like, oh, I don't want to be doing this. I mean, I love doing it. And it's been very good to me, that solo. And I'm honored and privileged, I believe, you know, to be able to do it.

GROSS: Now, I want to take a pause here and play something that's basically an outtake, but it's such an entertaining outtake. And this is something you recorded in 1958. The tune is called "The Moody One," and you stopped...

Mr. MOODY: I goofed.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. MOODY: On the record date.

GROSS: Well, let's play the outtake and hear the goof.

Mr. MOODY: I goofed. I goofed, I goofed on the record, and they left that in there, yeah. I remember that.

GROSS: Here it is.


Mr. MOODY: (Singing) Better do it again, (Unintelligible). I goofed. Yes, I goofed on the record.


GROSS: Were your outtakes usually as entertaining as this one?

Mr. MOODY: Oh, sure, that's like the bloopers, you know. Like, that's just my blooper. That was my way of doing it, you know. But anybody, when they do something like that, they always say something that's a little comical, you know.

GROSS: Were you surprised that this actually ended up on the record?

Mr. MOODY: Well, yeah, because, like, you know, finally they said: Yeah, we're going to leave it on there, too. I said what? Yes, we're going to - I don't care. And then I'd go and play it. The people said: I goofed, I goofed on the record.


GROSS: I want to ask you something else about Dizzy Gillespie. You were very close with Dizzy Gillespie. Were you close to him when he died?

Mr. MOODY: Yeah. We were with him. I had him in my arms. There was - John Faddis was there.

GROSS: The trumpeter.

Mr. MOODY: Yeah, Jacques Mouliel(ph) and his son, John Motley(ph) and myself. There were five of us in there with him when he passed. And you know what's funny? I told John, I said: John, you mark my words: 10 years from now, there are going to be 50 people in the room with Dizzy Gillespie, you know?


Mr. MOODY: You know? And there was no music playing. There was nothing. I mean, Dizz was just - he was just sitting there but, you know, trying to breathe deep, trying to get his breath. And his eyes were closed, you know what I mean? And, yes, he never opened them, and finally he took the last one and that was - so, yep, that was it, man.

GROSS: Was he conscious toward the end? Did he know that you were there?

Mr. MOODY: Well, the night before, he knew that we were there, the night before because Mike Longo and myself, we went to see him, and we said "Oop Pop a Da" and he tried to mouth "Oop Pop a Da." And then the thing he did was he took his finger and put it up to his lips and made his - tried to make his jowls go out like he usually did, you know how he would do. You know, and - but he was too weak. But we smiled, you know, and all like that. And I said Micko(ph) let's go, man. We'll come back tomorrow. I said that to Mike Longo, you know.

So, you know, then when I went back the next day, like he was in bed that night, and then when I went back the next day, he was sitting up. They had him in a chair sitting up. And he was, you know, trying to breathe. So anyway, yeah. Yeah, but I mean, I just - it's not the same. Nothing was the same anymore without Dizz, you know.

GROSS: You must feel like you owe so much of your career to him because he gave you your first job, and then you played with him off and on for so long.

Mr. MOODY: Yeah, I did, when I was 21 years old, my first gig, yup, yup. And even now, like I tell people that - when they ask me, they said: Well, what do you remember of Dizz?

I mean, many things, and what happened is sometimes I'll say: Ah, that's what he meant. You know, it might because everywhere that I've gone in the world, no matter where it was, I was there first with Dizz. Dizz took me everywhere first. I go to Africa, Sweden, Germany, France, all except Paris. I went there first alone, but then after that, everywhere else was with Dizz. And now when I go to those places, and I'm going, boy, I say: Oh, man.

And for the longest time, I used to call my wife. I used to call Linda, my honey, and tell her, I said: Honey, I called you and you weren't home. You know? And she says: Honey, I've been home all day. I said: Well, I said, but I called - and then I'd say the number. And she'd say: Honey, that's Dizzy's number.

GROSS: Oh, wow.

BIANCULLI: James Moody, speaking to Terry Gross in 1996. The influential saxophone player died yesterday at age 85. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

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