Sat Dec 11, 6:10 am ET
SAN DIEGO – Jazz saxophonist James Moody is best known for his 1949 "Moody's Mood for Love," but when he recorded the hit that eventually was elected into the Grammy Awards' Hall of Fame, he said, he was just "trying to find the right notes."
"People later said to me: 'You must have been very inspired when you recorded that.' And I said: 'Yeah I was inspired to find the right notes!'" Moody told the San Diego Union-Tribune in February.
The song later was recorded by Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, Amy Winehouse and others. Longtime fan and confidante Bill Cosby called it a "national anthem."
Moody, who recorded more than 50 solo albums as well as songs with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and B.B. King, died Thursday at San Diego Hospice after a 10-month battle with pancreatic cancer, his wife said. He was 85.
"James Moody had a sound, an imagination and heart as big as the moon. He was the quintessential saxophone player, and his 'Moody's Mood for Love' will forever be remembered in jazz history side by side with Coleman Hawkins' classic 'Body and Soul,'" friend and collaborator Quincy Jones said in a statement Thursday. "Today we've lost not only one of the best sax players to ever finger the instrument, but a true national treasure."
His last album, "Moody 4B," was recorded in 2008 and released in 2010, receiving a Grammy nomination earlier this month for best jazz instrumental album.
Moody was nominated for several other Grammies. He received a 1998 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award and a 2007 Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend award. He has also been inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame.
Moody was "a titan of our music" who was "just impeccable, his musicianship, his soul, his humor," Wynton Marsalis said.
"Moody's Mood for Love," his interpretation of the 1935 ballad "I'm in the Mood for Love," was recorded in Sweden, and it was elected into the Grammy Awards' Hall of Fame in 2001.
Moody sang the song with Nancy Wilson on an episode of "The Cosby Show" in the 1980s. Cosby also featured the song in the 2004 movie "Fat Albert."
"He has taught me integrity, how to express love for your fellow human beings, and how to combine and contain manhood and maturity," Cosby told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Moody, born in Savannah, Ga., joined Dizzy Gillespie's all-star big band in the 1940s. He was featured in the first episode of the PBS series "Legends of Jazz," and walked an invisible dog in the 1997 film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" when he was cast by longtime fan Clint Eastwood.
Moody performed on stages around the world, including the White House, Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and London's Royal Festival Hall. His last public performance was Jan. 28 at a Grammy-sponsored show in Seal Beach.
Moody's talent wasn't confined to jazz — he was a member of the Las Vegas Hilton Orchestra in the 1970s, sharing the spotlight with everyone from Glenn Campbell, Liberace and the Osmonds to Lou Rawls and Elvis Presley.
Many of those artists sang "Moody's Mood for Love."
"James Moody is one of the blueprints that you measure yourself up against," said Laurie Ann Gibson, creative director for Interscope Records and choreographer for several Lady Gaga music videos.
A public funeral service is scheduled Dec. 18 at Greenwood Memorial Park, followed by a public celebration of his life at Faith Chapel in Spring Valley.
Moody is survived by Linda Moody, his third wife; daughter Michelle Bagdanove; sons Patrick, Regan and Danny McGowan; brother Lou Watters; four grandchildren and one great grandson.