Friday, February 29, 2008

YOUNG AT HEART

Mr. Moody-Sorry to hear the folks at the Detroit Music Hall for the Performing Arts cancelled your gig celebrating the 50th anniversary of the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival. Man, I was looking forward to meeting you. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I hope you will visit Detroit before you retire. I enjoyed interviewing you last month. I know it was only a 20 minute chat via cell-phone. For what it’s worth, it was one of my favorites. The article I wrote was slated to run in the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit, a few days before your scheduled gig, but when my editor got wind the gig was cancelled, he had no other recourse but to kill the article. Needless to say, I was thoroughly disappointed because it’s easy to brag to my friend that I actually interviewed a jazz icon when I have printed evidence. Mr. Moody, getting my hopes up about an article I wrote being published and for whatever reasons it getting cancelled is the part of being a freelancer that I hate. Anyway, I didn’t want the article to go to waste, so I decided to post it on my blog page with this hip photo a found of you on the web. I hope to meet you in the near future.
--Charles L. Latimer



“This experience playing the Monterey jazz fest is better than when I played in it with Dizzy Gillespie in 1960 because I’m learning so much from these young guys I’m playing with. I tell Benny Green and Terrence Blanchard that every night,” says saxophonist James Moody, 82, when asked how leading a super band for the Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary tour compares to the first time he played the festival 48 years ago.

It’s a Saturday afternoon, Moody is sitting in a crowded tour bus in the parking-lot of a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Alabama talking to me via cell-phone about bits and pieces of his career, life lessons he learned from his mom, and the splendid time he’s having touring.

Moody’s wife Linda and his band-mates are eating lunch, but Moody remains on the bus. He jokingly says he refuses to eat in any restaurant with cracker in the title.

The sax man -- who’s released such classics as Moody Mood for Love, “ James Moody and His Bop Men,” “Wail, Moody, Wail,” “Return from Overbrook,” Moody’s Mood for Blues,” and “Young at Heart”-- is touring with trumpeter Terrence Blanchard, pianist Benny Green, vocalist Nnenna Freelon, bass Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival.

Moody is jovial and has a hunger to learn, emphasizing he’s always striving to improve. The saxophonist was born in Savannah, Georgia, but grew up in New Jersey.

“My mother always wanted to learn, learn, and I never went to school for music. I try to learn as much as I can because when you stop learning you are through, you know what I mean.”

Moody’s mom, Ruby, also introduced him to jazz. She favored music the big band music of Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie. And she was an amateur pianist.
“Because of her my ears were educated, and I’m so thankful for that because if my mother was someone who liked Doo Wop, I would be singing that because you are what you listen to.”

Moody taught himself to play on a used tenor sax his uncle gave him. He played three years in the Air Force band. Then he joined trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s big band.

At the time, Gillespie’s band was loaded with would-be icons such as pianist Thelonious Monk, but Moody never felt intimidated or out of place. He stayed one year. In 1949, he recorded James Moody and His Bop Men, his first album.

Then he moved to Europe. There he recorded his first big hit “Moody Mood for Love”. Moody says the song is still popular.

“I still love doing it. I’m not doing it on the Monterey tour, but I do it with my quintet. When I do it now, I do a little rap thing at the end,” Moody says.

In 1963, Moody reunited with Dizzy Gillespie. He played off and on with the trumpeter for a decade before moving to Las Vegas. For seven year, Moody performed with the Hilton Orchestra backing Elvis Presley, Liberace, and Glen Campbell.

“I was playing my horn, but I wasn’t playing necessarily the music I wanted to play. But I was still learning, you know. It was a good lesson because I had to make a living, and I made a living for seven years doing that,” Moody says.

He returned to New York in 1981, picking up where he left off. He's been working exclusively as a jazz musician since. Moody made a slew of first rate jazz albums. In 1985 and 1990, he received Grammy nobs.
Moody’s last release was "Homage" four years ago. These days he tour eight months per year. Moody credits his longevity in the music biz to hanging with the younger players such as Blanchard and Green.

“That’s it man, if you hang around old people they be talking about this hurts and that hurts. I’m feeling okay. These younger musicians got the new stuff. So I’m trying to get some of that, man.”
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