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Artist Profile: Saxophonist and Flutist James Moody


James Moody Jazz Saxophone
© Brad Barket / Getty Images

March 26th, 1925 in Savannah, Georgia


  • Grammy Nominee: Best Jazz Instrumental Solo, from Live At The 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival, for the selection Be-Bop (2007)
  • James Moody Day - Proclamation by Mayor Corey A. Booker (July 25, 2008)
  • NEA Jazz Master Award - 1998 Recipient from the National Endowment For The Arts

Saxophonist and flutist James Moody is widely considered one of the great jazz artists of all time, and has been engaging audiences with his unique sound and warm sense of humor since the 1940s, when he began performing with Dizzy Gillespie.

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, James Moody was raised in Newark, New Jersey, where he was drawn to the saxophone after hearing New Jersey native Count Basie perform with his big band. He played both in an Air Force band from 1943 to 1946.

Upon leaving the Air Force, Moody joined Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, which also featured Thelonious Monk, Milt Jackson, and Ray Brown. Performing with Gillespie gave Moody a chance to hone his bebop skills and develop his own effusive style of improvisation on the tenor saxophone and flute.

Frustrated by racial discrimination in the United States, Moody moved to Europe in 1949. In Sweden that year, he recorded the “I’m in the Mood for Love.” Three years later, jazz vocalist Eddie Jefferson set lyrics to Moody’s saxophone solo and called it “Moody’s Mood for Love.” King Pleasure recorded the arrangement in 1954, and the song became a pop hit. In the decades since, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, George Benson, Queen Latifah, Amy Winehouse, Rod Stewart have each recorded a version of the song.

After returning to the U.S. in 1952, Moody put together a septet, began recording on the flute, and recorded several albums on the Prestige and Argo record labels. In 1963, he began to tour on and off with Dizzy Gillespie’e quintet.

In 1973, Moody left jazz to work in the Las Vegas Hilton Orchestra, playing shows for Bill Cosby, Elvis Presley, Liberace, and Redd Foxx. When he returned to jazz in the 1980s, his career stayed steady throughout the next two decades. Even into his 80s, Moody tours with his quartet.

Based in San Diego, California, Moody released the album Moody 4B in 2010 on IPO Records. Known for his buoyant improvisations, and for being one of the first jazz flutists, James Moody is a jazz master.

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