James Moody | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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James Moody's puckish persona and penchant for bad puns would seem to argue against his status as an elder statesman of jazz, but there's no disputing his place in music history. Known primarily for his tenor sax but also an incisive altoist, Moody, who turned 78 this year, was already an adept of the nascent bebop idiom when he joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band in 1947. Two years later he recorded a bright, beautifully balanced tenor solo to the chestnut "I'm in the Mood for Love." Eddie Jefferson later paired the melody of Moody's solo with a vocalese lyric--since heard by millions as "Moody's Mood for Love" in recordings by King Pleasure, Van Morrison, and, most famously, George Benson. And in the early 50s, Moody (along with Frank Wess and Herbie Mann) helped make the flute a viable component of modern jazz; for many he remains the quintessential mainstream flutist, the first to transfer the virile propulsion of bebop saxophone to an instrument previously considered soft, even wussy. He remained a contemporary figure throughout the 70s with a series of albums that revealed a musical mind more complex--and a performance style even more brilliant--than most listeners had previously recognized (look for 1973's Feelin' It Together, last issued on 32 Jazz). To say that he's mellowed his approach since then and even sentimentalized it (two of his recent albums were tributes to Henry Mancini and Frank Sinatra) doesn't minimize the strength and purpose his playing still conveys. A genius at plumbing the harmonic nuances of a chord, or even a single note, he can still rip apart an arpeggio to fleetingly explore its most angular implications, and the more convoluted his improvised lines become, the more startling the logic with which he resolves them. Moody plays with Chicagoans Mike Kocour (piano) and Larry Gray (bass); percolating drummer Tony Pinciotti rounds out this knockout quartet. Tuesday through Thursday, August 19 through 21, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, August 22 and 23, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, August 24, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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