Saturday, December 11, 2010

SKILLED TRADESMAN AT HEART

Tenor saxophonist James Moody (1925-2010)
"James Moody is dead,” my friend Cory the barber announced. Then he paused. In the background, I heard James Moody’s last album Moody 4B playing. The tenor saxophonist wailed away on Billy Stayhorn’s Take the A Train. The great pianist Kenny Barron hounded Moody like an ornery supervisor. The news Moody died from pancreatic cancer upset Cory. He considered Moody a fine jazz musicians who never surrendered to any jazz fads. Moody deserved the accolades he received four Grammy nominations, Medal of Honor for Music, and countless other recognitions. The horn-smith always made superb jazz music. He played meaty and meaningful solos. He never resorted to purposeless flights of improvisation. The guy was too darn classy for that. Such behavior was for rank and file amateurs starved for attention. Moody was a skilled tradesman at heart. He developed his chops in the Dizzy Gillespie big band along side future stars Thelonious Monk, Kenny Clark, and Milt Jackson. 
“My editor informed me yesterday,” I said,
“I hate I missed his set at the Dirty Dog last year.
“I interviewed him a week before. At, 85, he still toured over 200 days a year,” I said.
“The man loved his job.”
“You got that right”.
“The music he made will live forever.”
“That's for sure.”
“How many times did you interview him”?
” Twice”.
“I heard he was funny.”
“The first time I interviewed him he was touring with pianist Benny Green, and vocalist Nneena Freelon. I forgot who the other band members were. Anyway, when I talked to Moody they were on a tour bus. They stopped at Cracker Barrel restaurant to eat. Moody stayed on the bus. He refused to patronize a restaurant with the word cracker in the name, he said. I laughed, but the man was dead serious. It dawned on me Moody came of age when bigotry and racism was overt. The second time I interviewed him we talked about his music, his bout with alcoholism, and his opus Moody’s Mood for Love. When the song exploded, Moody lived in Europe. Jazz vocalist Babs Gonzales begged Moody to come home to take advantage of the song’s success. I played At the Jazz Workshop, an album he made in 1959, while I interviewed him. Moody asked who was playing the flute. He was surprised when I said It was him.
“You couldn’t expect him to remember every solo,” Cory said. He yelled to his daughter, Be bop, to get her things ready. Her mom was coming to pick her up.
“How's Be bop dealing with his death”?
“She’s been playing his albums Wail Moody Wail, Moody’s Mood for Blues, and Homage for the past two days,” Cory said.
“I was sad at first. Then I realized Moody had a great life. He spent decades traveling the world playing music he loved. Eighty-five years, is a long life. I can only hope I live that long,” I said.
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