“Every step counts in popularizing jazz,” Aryeh Gold-Parker ’12—a member of the Harvard Jazz Band— said in an email.
On April 10, Harvard will contribute to promoting the genre by honoring saxophonist-composer James Moody—best known for the composition “Moody’s Mood for Love”—in recognition for a lifetime of creative achievements.
In an effort to bring more of a jazz presence to Harvard’s campus, the Office for the Arts’ (OFA) Harvard Jazz Program and the Harvard Jazz Bands will organize a tribute concert for James Moody, the saxophonist who was recently named the 2010 Harvard University Jazz Master in Residence. Moody’s broad scope of works, both old and new, will be the focus of the event “Moody’s Moods: The Music of James Moody” in Sanders Theater.
“Moody has become known as a great entertainer. He invites [the audience] into what he does. He enjoys what he does. Like his mentor Dizzy Gillespie, he puts people at ease,” says Thomas G. Everett, director of the Harvard University Band.
Although Moody will not be in attendance at the tribute concert while he recovers from his recent gall bladder surgery, his contemporary Jimmy Heath, who has played with other notable jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, will be performing in Moody’s place and accepting the honor on his behalf.
Heath will perform a new arrangement of Moody’s 2005 composition “Moody’s Groove,” which was commissioned for the concert by the Harvard Jazz Bands. Along with Heath, saxophonist Bill Pierce from the Berklee College of Music will also be featured at the concert.
Among the reasons for choosing Moody for this recognition, Everett explains, was the musician’s innovation and influence in the jazz style of Bebop in the late 1940s, his musicianship with the flute as well as the tenor and alto saxophone, and his love for the music he creates. In addition, Moody is able to make his music accessible, while never abandoning his personal style.
“One of the unfortunate things about jazz is that either someone is revered in the jazz community as a great artist and the music isn’t appreciated by the masses because it’s difficult to listen to… or the music is very popular, and often has less content, has less artistic integrity,” Everett says. “Somehow he’s been able to do both.”
Starting in the late 1940s, Moody began playing with jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie’s band and continued for several years. His first big hit came with the 1949 song “Moody’s Mood for Love,” on which he played an improvised saxophone solo based on Jimmy McHugh’s “I’m in the Mood For Love.”
Although he exhibited some of the elements of the influential Charlie Parker, the composition was all Moody’s own. In the early 1950s, jazz singer Eddie Jefferson wrote lyrics to the solo, which Moody himself oftentimes sings in live performances.
While he moved to Europe during the mid-century to escape racial prejudices against African Americans, he continued to work throughout this time, and “Moody’s Mood for Love” increased in popularity with jazz vocalist King Pleasure’s own 1954 rendition, Everett says.
“Moody’s Mood for Love” has still managed to retain its popularity, as artists ranging from Van Morrison to Queen Latifah, from Aretha Franklin to Amy Winehouse have recorded their own versions. This iconic piece will be one of Moody’s signature works showcased at the tribute concert.
In anticipation of the concert, the jazz band has been working to prepare the musician’s compositions that span the different moments of his career, including lesser known pieces from the Moody canon, such as “Phil Up.”
“For some, James Moody may not be a household name. I think for the younger generation, they just don’t know,” OFA program manager Thomas Lee says.
But Lee states that the upcoming tribute concert and the position of Jazz Master is given to honor the artist and increase public awareness of his music.
Gold-Parker, who will be playing in the concert, echoed Lee’s sentiments in an email: “I’m pretty excited for Yardfest, but it bothers me that most students get really excited for contemporary stars like Kid Cudi but miss the fact that jazz artists like Jimmy Heath have had an immeasurably larger impact on American music,” he says. “I hope that the OFA can advertise the show in a way that gets students excited.”
And with jazz playing an integral role in the process of American cultural development, Everett believes that the appreciation of the work of a jazz musician like Moody will provide for a deeper understanding of America’s past.
“If someone studies the history of jazz in this country, they’re actually getting a mini cross discipline into economics, culture, social landmarks, milestones; they’re dealing with the racisms in this country; they’re dealing with the politics of popular music,” Everett says.