Jazz enthusiasts and musicians throughout the world are mourning the recent passing of one of its greatest, most innovative legends, James Moody, 85, who died in his San Diego home after an extensive battle with pancreatic cancer.

Moody’s clever command of the saxophone and the flute, launched his career and propelled him to the heights of individual achievement and peer respect.

On stage, Moody was a dynamo-a beacon of ebullience, grace, and inspiration. And to those who can recognize the essence of Jazz, he was a master, with an unappeasable thirst for elevation. To others, like guitarist Jacques Lesure, Moody was a teacher, a motivator, and most importantly, a friend.

“He was just cool man . . . a genuinely beautiful musician, father and human being,” Lesure said of his former mentor. “Moody never belittled anyone’s ability or lack thereof. His philosophy was that all men are equal under God, and under the sound of music.”

Lesure, a former student at Berkeley School of Music in Boston, keenly remembers his first encounter with Moody on campus.

“At the time, I was struggling with certain improvisational methods and concepts,” he recalled.

“Ol’ Moody, whose schedule was always tight, took some of his time and showed me the way. For that, I am forever grateful.”

Moody’s ‘tour de force’ came in 1952, when his improvised saxophone solo on a recording of Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” became an instant jazz classic and cross-genre sensation. Since then, instrumental translations of the solo have been re-sampled time and time again by singers ranging from Van Morrison, George Benson, Tito Puente, Amy Winehouse and Aretha Franklin.

Moody did not initially intend to record with the alto, however. In fact, the song was created as a spontaneous, last-minute addition to the storied session.

“The producer decided we needed an extra tune,” Moody recalled during an interview with Times Jazz writer Leonard Feather in 1988. “But [he] didn’t have any music prepared. I suggested making ‘I’m in the Mood for Love,’ and we went ahead and did it in one take, with me playing this beat-up alto saxophone. Well, you know what happed [after that].”

Moody was born on March 26, 1925, in Savannah, Ga., and raised in Newark, N.J. His father was a trumpeter and his mother was a dyed-in-the-wool jazz fan. It was only natural that young Moody would follow suit after growing up in a household where the record-player spun nothing but classics by the likes of Chick Webb, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Jimmy Lunceford.

Moody later joined Dizzie Gillespie’s jazz ensemble, while simultaneously working on his own debut recording-“James Moody and His Bebop Men.” Moody relocated to Europe in the late 1940s, remaining there until 1951. There he collaborated with jazz mavens like Miles Davis.

He returned the states, settling in New York City, in the early 1950s. There Moody, a multiple Grammy nominee, led various ensembles, including a septet that featured Jazz-influenced Rhythm and Blues, and produced a series of exhilarating recordings with Gillespie until the latter’s death in 1993.

In 1988, Moody became the founding member of Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra. Ten years later, he was chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as a Jazz master. Lesure insists that although his old friend will likely be remembered most for his endless contributions to the heart and soul of Jazz, Moody’s legacy is far greater than the spare notes he left behind.
“He was more than just a musician,” said the father of three. “He was a humanitarian.”

Moody is survived by his wife of 21 years, Linda; brother Lou Waters; daughter Michelle Bagdanove; sons Patrick, Regan and Danny McGowan; four grandchildren and one great-grandson.