Moody’s From Heaven

Anyone who has experienced the joy of hearing the great NEA Jazz Master James Moody’s hilarious turnaround on the old Tin Pan Alley tune “Pennie’s From Heaven,” which he re-cast as “Bennie’s From Heaven” can appreciate that this fabulous man has ascended on a one-way ticket to heaven. While it is with great sorrow that we contemplate a world without James Moody, we can certainly re-live the joy he gave so many of us during his all-too-short 85 years on this planet and turn sorrow to joy. James Moody was without question one of a kind — superb saxophonist, exquisite flutist, one of the funniest vocalists you’ve ever heard, and a man who spread joy with such abundance he always made you feel good when you encountered him. And if you were fortunate enough to have spent any time with him away from the bandstand you were deeply rewarded by the experience.

I recall the first time I interviewed Moody. It was back in the early 80s and I was working for Arts Midwest in Minneapolis. Moody came north to perform at a local club for the weekend so I set up an interview with him for the City Pages alternative weekly. Moody didn’t hesitate to invite me to his modest hotel room for our chat. When he opened the door, with that infectious smile planted on his jolly mug, the first thing I noticed was an incredible array of seemingly every imaginable vitamin supplement spread across his dresser. Then and there I knew this was a man who took care of himself, and indeed he did live a long and rich life, finally succumbing to the demon cancer last week at the ripe young age of 85. Despite those 85 years, Moody seemed forever ageless; maybe it was that perpetually sunny disposition and the fact that I never heard him utter a discouraging word — though if a musician didn’t come correct in the jazz tradition Moody respected, he was quick to call it; but never in a mean-spirited or egotistical way.

A warm encounter with James Moody always yielded a big hug; thereafter anyone who knew the deal knew you’d been in Moody’s company and been enveloped by one of his warm bearhugs. You see Moody was forever bathed in what we used to call in high school “smell good.” Moody had his own formulaic cologne which he had made specifically for himself, and he luxuriated in that wonderful oil. I used to tease him about giving up the formula whenever I encountered he and his sweet & lovely bride Linda. Until lo and behold one afternoon I went to the mailbox, opened a padded envelope from James & Linda (have you ever met two people who were such a true pair in every sense of the word?) and there was my very own vial of that inimitable oil. So now when I conjure up James Moody and seek some vicarious joy, I can pop on one of his fine recordings, re-hash our numerous encounters, and take an olfactory hit of that “smell good.” Yes indeed, Moody’s really from Heaven now! Rest easy my friend…

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