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Moody, Woods: Much to say

February 08, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

GRAMMY week kicked off Tuesday night at the Music Box in Hollywood with "Salute to Jazz," an evening "paying tribute to one of the great American musical forms." The honorees were saxophonists James Moody and Phil Woods, and the event appropriately had a lot more to do with music than it did with celebrities, fashions and talking heads.

Recording Academy President Neil Portnow, event chairman Neil Tesser and event host Tom Scott graciously kept their remarks to a minimum, allowing Moody and Woods to accept their President's Merit Awards with speeches highlighting their characteristically droll but insightful whimsy (in Moody's case) and sardonic wit and humor (in Woods').

But the real pleasures of the evening were generated by the opportunity to hear two iconic jazz figures performing in prime-time fashion. That Moody, 81, and Woods, 75, still have a great deal to say musically was best affirmed by the entranced looks on the faces of the young musicians who accompanied them in the Gibson/Baldwin Grammy Jazz big band.

Moody has been a prominent jazz figure since he began a long association with Dizzy Gillespie in the late '40s. His visibility beyond the jazz world began unexpectedly in 1949 when he recorded the Dorothy Fields- Jimmy McHugh standard, "I'm in the Mood for Love." Three years later, Eddie Jefferson recorded it with vocalese lyrics, and it became a classic as "Moody's Mood for Love," subsequently recorded by Aretha Franklin, Georgie Fame, Tito Puente and Queen Latifah.

It's a regular part of Moody's repertoire, and he sang it again on Tuesday in his inimitable style, interspersed with often hilarious whoops, yodels and multiphonic sounds. He was then joined by Grammy-nominated guest star Roberta Gambarini in a delightful romp through "Moody's Groove," powerfully driven by the Gibson/Baldwin big band and vocal ensemble, showcasing the rich complexities of Moody's emotion-driven tenor saxophone lines and the astonishing instrumental-styled qualities of Gambarini's singing.

Woods was equally impressive. His albatross in the early part of his career was the obvious influence that Charlie Parker's playing had on his music (as it had on that of most other alto saxophonists who came to maturity in the late '40s and early '50s). But Woods soon found a way to use the lexicon of bebop to fashion his own style, firmly establishing himself as one of the seminal saxophonists of the last five decades.

His performance of the often-overdone standard "Willow Weep for Me" superbly displayed the combination of intricate bop articulation, warm sound and driving swing that are the fundamentals of his style.

Appropriately, the evening wound up with Moody and Woods being joined by alto saxophonist Scott. Even here, the performance took an imaginative turn.

Rather than choose a predictable dash through the blues, the trio of saxophonists, accompanied by the big band, played Neal Hefti's rarely heard "Repetition," recalling Charlie Parker's memorable 1947 recording of the work.

As elsewhere throughout the program, the young musicians of the Gibson/Baldwin Grammy Jazz big band, ably conducted by Justin DiCioccio, and the singers of the Gibson/Baldwin chorus, led by Ron McCurdy, illuminated another vital aspect of the "Salute to Jazz": the promising potential of the jazz future.


The Gibson/Baldwin musicians perform on their own on Friday at the Vic, 2640 Main St., Santa Monica. $15, sold out. Information: (888) 367-5299.

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