Bebop veteran James Moody, famed for his technical mastery of the saxophone and the warmth of his sound, is celebrating his 75th birthday at New York's Avery Fisher Hall on April 3 and jazz royalty will be on hand to help him mark the occasion.
"There are so many people who love Moody who play jazz," said Rob Gibson, executive director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and the presenter of "Moody's Moods James Moody's 75th Birthday Bash." "The thing that is so amazing about him is that as soon as he enters the room, the whole place lifts up a couple of feet."
The show's lineup includes trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Jon Faddis, saxophonists Jimmy Heath and Paquito D'Rivera, singers John Hendricks and Annie Ross, trombonist Slide Hampton and pianist Kenny Barron. Moody also will perform with his working group: pianist Rene Rosnes, bassist Todd Coolman and drummer Adam Nussbaum.
Moody, who is proficient on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones as well as flute, is best known for playing in trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie's big band, beginning in 1946, and for writing the 1949 hit "Moody's Mood for Love" (RealAudio excerpt), which he based on the chords of "I'm in the Mood for Love."
Heath, one of jazz's legendary Heath brothers, said Moody "was Dizzy's favorite saxophone player, which should say a lot in itself. Moody learned the language of bebop early on and has been eloquent ever since. Even more so today."
Gillespie once said, "Playing with Moody is like playing with a continuation of myself."
It's hard to imagine a more beloved or revered member of the jazz community. Gibson recalled a 1997 JALC rehearsal of Gillespie compositions: "When Moody came in, all the guys in the room, including Wynton, Faddis, Charles McPherson, were in awe when he pulled out his horn and just burned from the first note of 'Emanon.' The guys had the look of 'Damn ... This is one bad mother that just walked in here.' "
Moody's fame peaked when King Pleasure sang a version of "Moody's Mood for Love." The saxophonist continued to work with Gillespie in the '50s, in addition to fronting a septet. He performed with vocalists Dinah Washington and Eddie Jefferson, and he became one-third of a short-lived three-tenor group with Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt.
In 1985, Moody received a Grammy nomination for his performance on Manhattan Transfer's Vocalese album. In 1997, he made a cameo as Mr. Glover in the Clint Eastwood film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The next year he attended a White House reception, hosted by President Clinton, honoring jazz artists.
"Moody is a giver, ... always giving me something," Heath said. "When you are around him, he kisses you twice on one side of the face and then he's gotta get the other side. Anyone who meets him and spends any time with him says Moody has more kisses than Hershey's."