Moody had an unexpected hit with “Moody’s Mood for Love,” a 1952 song written by Eddie Jefferson that used as its melody an improvised solo that Moody had played on a 1949 recording of “I’m in the Mood for Love.” Moody adopted the song as his own, recording it with Jefferson on his 1956 album Moody’s Mood for Love and performing the song regularly in concert, often singing the vocals himself.
James Moody was born in Savannah, Georgia, and was raised by his (single) mother, Ruby Hann Moody Watters. He had a brother, Louis.Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, he was attracted to the saxophone after hearing George Holmes Tate, Don Byas, and various saxophonists who played with Count Basie, and later also took up the flute. Moody joined the US Army Air Corps in 1943 and played in the “negro band” on the segregated base. Following his discharge from the military in 1946 he played bebop with Dizzy Gillespie for two years. Moody later played with Gillespie in 1964, where his colleagues in the Gillespie group, pianist Kenny Barron and guitarist Les Spann, would be musical collaborators in the coming decades.