James Moody, 85, a jazz saxophonist and flutist celebrated for his virtuosity, versatility, and onstage ebullience, died Thursday of pancreatic cancer at a hospice in San Diego.
Mr. Moody, who began his career with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie shortly after World War II and maintained it well into the 21st century, developed distinctive and fluent styles on both tenor and alto saxophone, a relatively rare accomplishment in jazz. He also played soprano saxophone, and in the mid-1950s he became one of the first significant jazz flutists, impressing the critics if not himself.
His fellow musicians admired him for his dexterity, his unbridled imagination, and his devotion to his craft, as did critics. Defying the stereotype of the modern jazz musician as austere and humorless, Mr. Moody often told silly jokes and peppered his repertory with unlikely numbers such as "Beer Barrel Polka" and the theme from The Flintstones.
The song he sang most often, "I'm in the Mood for Love," was based on the harmonic structure of the original song by that name. His song began as an instrumental when Mr. Moody recorded it in Sweden in 1949, and it was a modest hit. But it later became a much larger hit when singer Eddie Jefferson wrote lyrics and recorded it as "Moody's Mood for Love."
Mr. Moody's version of the song was elected into the Grammy Awards' Hall of Fame in 2001 and has been recorded by a number of people, including Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Rod Stewart, and Queen Latifah.
Mr. Moody's career was twice interrupted by alcoholism in the late 1940s and 1950s. In 1963, he reunited with Gillespie, joining his popular quintet for a short time. The final decades of his life were active and productive, with frequent touring and recording.
Mr. Moody was nominated for four Grammies. He received a 1998 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award and a 2007 Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend award. He has also been inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame. His last album, Moody 4B, was recorded in 2008 and released this year.
- N.Y. Times News Service