Friday, April 17, 2015

Listening to Prestige extra: James Moody in Sweden

As I go back over my earlier entries, thinking about preparing them for a book, I run across a few sessions that I wasn't able to find and listen to at the time, but have since been able to rectify that problem. Moody worked with a lot of Swedish musicians during this period, and most of them were pretty good -- certainly all must have benefitted from playing with him, and the other Americans who made Sweden a second home during this period. Dave Liebman, in an article on European jazz, says "the typical Swedish jazz musician is the best overall equipped craftsman around." By 1953 Prestige would have released 11 albums made in Sweden and featuring Swedish musicians, either with or without an American star such as Moody or Stan Getz or Lee Konitz, and in 1954 Lars Gullin, who I don't believe ever toured the US, won the Down Beat award as best new talent. And the Swedish musicians brought a lot of Swedish folk music into jazz, most notably the tune originally known as "Ack Värmeland, du sköna"/"Värmlandsvisan," perhaps better known by the title Stan Getz, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and others recorded it under: "Dear Old Stockholm."

James Moody, after a three-year apprenticeship in Dizzy Gillespie's big band, went to Europe in 1949. New York, the road, and the jazz life of the late 40s had put him in harm's way, and his mother was worried about his drug use. She had an uncle in Paris, and she asked him if he would take young James in and get him away from bad influences. He stayed in Paris until September of 1949, then decamped for Sweden, then Switzerland, then Paris again, and then Sweden again in the fall of 1951 before returning to the United States. He did a lot of recording in Europe. These were his first sessions as a leader, and a powerful period of growth and maturity for him, from age 23 to 25. Sweden wasn't necessarily the best place to escape drugs -- Lars Gullin had a lifetime heroin, and then methadone, addiction, which ultimately led to his death from a heart attack at age 48.

But people find different ways to their creative voices, and Moody found his among blond-haired Vikings. His most famous recording, the one that came to be known as "Moody's Mood for Love," was cut on his first visit to dear old Stockholm.

This session, or rapid-fire series of sessions, came in January of 1951, shortly  before he returned to the States. He was into the studio for three days, with a virtual revolving door of Swedish musicians (well, what else was there to do in Sweden in January?) , including a string section. Charlie Parker With Strings had first been released in 1950, and records didn't travel as easily back then as mp3s do today, but the idea of playing modern jazz with a classical string section certainly started with Bird, and if Moody hadn't heard the records, certainly he must at least have heard of them. There are some who question Parker's decision to record with strings, though not too many by now. And if there were more people to hear Moody's two cuts (they're pretty hard to find), there might be those who'd question them too, but actually it's hard to see how. He does some of his strongest soloing and improvising on "Cherokee." And the interplay between Moody and the string section on "Pennies From Heaven" is inspired -- witty, imaginative, musical. There's also a wonderful piano solo from Rolf Larsson, a musician whose reputation never traveled far beyond Sweden.

All of these were originally released on Sweden's Metronome label, but all of them were picked up pretty quickly by Prestige and issued on 78 and 10-inch LP -- a plucky call on a young and relatively unknown expatriate. Although by 1951, he wasn't quite so unknown, was he? Not after the jukebox success of "I'm in  the Mood for Love."

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