When James Moody moved to Paris in 1948 out of dissatisfaction with the racial climate in the United States, he was a little-known jazz musician. When he returned home three years later, he was a star, thanks to a tune he’d cut two years earlier in Sweden on a borrowed alto saxophone. Moody’s improvised rendition of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” which bore little resemblance to songwriter Jimmy McHugh’s original melody, had been issued in Sweden on the Metronome label. Prestige Records released it in the U.S. in 1950, and it gave the fledgling jazz label its first bona fide hit. Moody’s solo, with vocalese lyrics by Eddie Jefferson, became an even bigger hit in 1952 through singer King Pleasure’s Prestige recording of it under the title “Moody’s Mood for Love.”
Moody, who also plays tenor and soprano saxophones and flute, was born in 1925 in Savannah, Georgia, and raised in Redding, Pennsylvania and Newark, New Jersey. He took up the alto while in high school but switched to tenor after seeing Buddy Tate and Don Byas with Count Basie at the Newark Theater. While playing in a segregated Air Force band in Greensboro, North Carolina, Moody met Dizzy Gillespie. He joined the trumpeter’s big band shortly after his discharge in 1946.
After leading his own New York–based sextet from 1951 to ’62, Moody worked for seven years as a member of Gillespie’s quintet. Seven years during the Seventies were spent playing anonymously in Las Vegas pit bands behind such entertainers as Liberace, Elvis Presley, Lou Rawls, and Dinah Shore. Moody returned to playing jazz full-time in 1980 and hasn’t stopped.