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Grammy Award Winner James Moody, R.I.P.

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Video published December 9, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: The James Moody Quartet performing on the KPBS series, Club Date, in 1989.

— There are lots of things people may want to do before they die, like win a Grammy Award. But the great jazz saxophonist James Moody will have to be satisfied with a posthumous honor. Yesterday, Moody’s “4B” won the Grammy for best jazz instrumental album. In December, he died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 85.

James Moody was born in Savannah, Georgia and grew up in Newark, New Jersey. He had lived in San Diego since 1989. Moody’s jazz career took off in New York, shortly after World War II, when he joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band.

George Varga is a pop music critic for the San Diego Union Tribune who knew Moody well. As to the Grammy Award that came a little late, Varga said, “The historic tendency of the Grammies is to recognize artists late in their careers…. (With Moody) they were playing catch-up.”

Moody was a virtuoso on the flute and the saxophone whose jazz music was dynamic, playful and incredibly expressive. Watch the video below, which was recorded at KPBS in 1989, and listen to his version of “Lover Man.” His tone ranges from piercing to lush. He takes the ballad in a zillion directions, turning it from a love song to a blues song then back again.

Winning a Grammy for an album you recorded at the age of 83 is a great accomplishment, even though Moody’s death certainly won him the sympathy vote. Varga said Moody’s work ethic was enormous, right up until the year he died.

“When people called him he’d be practicing,” said Varga. “He’d play stuff for people over the phone. The last time I visited Moody, he was sitting at the keyboard, working out chords then picking up his flute.”

Joe Kocherhans, the music director at jazz station KSDS, is another Moody admirer. He said age may have affected Moody’s technical prowess, but it never affected his melodic sense, his expressiveness or his unique sound

“Moody sounded like Moody and nobody else,” he said.

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