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If jazz had a Mount Rushmore, James Moody’s face would be right up there with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Maybe the next best thing — aside from his live performance Saturday at the Playboy Jazz Festival — is YouTube, where you can catch the great saxophonist as a member of Dizzy’s first big band, back in the 1940s.
“If I’d have known what it was, I probably would have fainted with all that stuff,” Moody likes to say of his stint with the source of the 20th century’s greatest musical revolution.
” ‘Cause when I joined the band, (Thelonious) Monk was the piano player and Klook was the drummer — Kenny Clarke — and Bags (Milt Jackson) was there, too.” Not to mention such original gangsters as Miles Davis, Ray Brown and John Lewis.
Moody, 83, speaks today as he did when he was first recorded 60 years ago on the big band’s “Emanon.” This was not a health food store but a screaming blues track with breathtaking sarcastic breaks from Gillespie’s horn, an inexorable groove from Ray Brown, the bassist, and a climactic passage reserved for Moody after Dizzy finishes.
Patrons of the 30th anniversary Playboy Jazz Festival will feel Moody’s undiminished power when he appears with Roy Hargrove at the Hollywood Bowl. They can compare his live performance with the “Emanon” track, 99 cents on iTunes. The witty, emblematic opening; the bottomless resources; the unflagging swing; and the discreetly blasting climax — his whole thing is there, and it has never run down.
On Saturday, Moody might favor MC Bill Cosby, his longtime friend, with a performance of the immortal “Moody’s Mood for Love.” He enthralled a Bowl audience last year when he and Roberta Gambarini combined the classic hit number with a deft comic routine.
Does he enjoy doing such things?
“Well, it depends,” he said. “I enjoy playing music. I like to play music first, I mean that’s what it is.
“I don’t even like the comedy bit thing put in there because I’m really a musician. That’s what I wanna do.”
Does he feel that the long-popular number has overshadowed his other work?
“Well, I did that in 1949 in Stockholm, Sweden. That is when I did that.” He would say no more on the topic.
So what would he and Hargrove play on Saturday?
“We’ll play music,” said the great James Moody, who is really a musician.
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