When I first learned a song called, “Moody’s Mood For Love,” in 1987, and began to perform it at a club called Thai Ice Cuisine, the lyrics and this music were like a mantra for me. “I am not afraid, not anymore, not like before.” When I sang these words, I felt them….
Just yesterday, I found out that jazz saxophonist, James Moody has been going through a very challenging time, health-wise. So, I have put together a brew of memories, gratitude and inspiration - a potion he has stirred together in me my whole life. I send this out to him with wishes of continued strength and support from all of us who have been touched by his music....
The springs shouted under my feet every time they landed on my dad’s cranky mattress. Every bounce would leave two jelly-bean shaped impressions in the navy blue quilt.
“Raya, knock it off. I have something to play you.”
I released myself into one final elegant leap from the top of the box-spring mountain, and executed a two-footed landing on the flattened out, black and blue woven rug. The rug in that Hollywood studio apartment never felt quite like fabric, more like depressed plastic fibers – they wanted to pass for a wool or cotton weave, but they had given up.
Dad and I sat on the edge of the bed, which was only about 1 foot from the record player. Dad lifted the clear plastic lid from the player, and placed the vinyl disk in place. Needle drop. This was the first time I would hear “Moody’s Mood For Love”
“There I go, there I go, there I go
Pretty baby, you are the soul that snaps my control…”
The music of James Moody and the lyrics of King Pleasure released upward in a plume, and yawned outward to fill that worn plaster box, which we called apartment #4. The music danced on reflecting speckles of light from the hanging crystals in the window. It filled my mind like incense.
“Such a funny thing, but every time I’m near you, I ne-ver can be-have.
The essence of flirtation, the beauty and torture of pursuit: the way the singer broke up the words at the end of the phrase spilled his strength into vulnerability.
"You give me a smile and them I’m wrapped up in your madness.
There’s music all around me crazy music,
music that keeps calling me so very close to you….”
The music turned the frustration of longing into an opiate. As if the act of loving, requited or not, was an act of beauty.
“Am I insane, or do I really see heaven in your eyes?”
This lyric brought up a question I would not understand in full for years. When are you in love, and when are you just crazy? I’m still not sure. I believe I still feel that love is an act of brave insanity.
Then the woman’s voice came in:
“What is all this talk, about loving me my sweet?
I am not afraid, not anymore, not like before.
Don’t you understand me?
C’mon and please pull yourself together, better do it very soon…”
When I learned this song, and began to perform it at Thai Ice Cuisine, these lyrics and this music were like a mantra for me. “I am not afraid, not anymore not like before.” When I sang these words, I felt them – the audience didn’t scare me, the night didn’t scare me, the drunk in the corner didn’t scare me. The melody shoots up to the top of my vocal range, so I had no choice but to let it ring from the rafters, bounce off the block glass facades, and ping off the mirror behind the liquors.
“C’mon and please pull yourself together, better do it very soon” when I sang those words, I felt that I was counseling myself and my father. These were tough-love words, but we were two parts of a broken family unit, and we couldn’t drag that pain around forever. The “home and hearth” notion, the nuclear family, the whole “dependable family dynamic” thing, was lost to us, but we were still here.
I sang that song all through my childhood, up through my teens, and into college. Somewhere in college I started to sing it “a capella” (*note for non-musicians:a capella = without instrumental back-up, solo). When I sang “Moody’s Mood For Love” a capella, it felt like a monologue, and once again the song took on a new importance for me - a new dimension. Where I originally sang it as song of struggle over my personal loss of family, I could now feel it in the way that it was intended - a love song. By my early 20s I’d had my heart stepped on a few times, so I could finally sing from that experience. Every time I sang about a different man, it became a different song.
Sometimes I would just sing the melody, without the words. Times when I was alone, and I thought I would always be alone, I would just just croon the melody. Sometimes I would wail with it, out loud, and the music alone would speak my heart.
Finally, one night in 2001 or 2002, I was checking out a show at Catalina’s Bar and Grill. (Catalina’s is currently located on Sunset Blvd, but then it was on Cahuenga blvd, almost across from Hotel Café). It was a special night, because James Moody was playing. It was a wonderful evening, but the show-stopper for me was when he did “Moody’s Mood For Love.” Wow. Straight from the man.
After the show, I got to talk with him for a second, I even got his card, but I never called him. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say until I sat down to write this today, truth be told.
In that moment in 2002 I didn’t have the presence of mind to tell him that his song had acted like a parent to me – that I had grown up with his music like jasmine vines grow and weave up along a branch. That I had stood firmly in countless spotlights in Los Angeles, in New York, and overseas - in ecstatic, overwhelming bliss, grief, emptiness, fulfillment - and always truth – singing his song. That singing his song as a child, I found myself - that every time I sing that song now, I find myself again.
Mr. Moody, if you get to read this, forgive the long preamble. All I mean to say is thank you. Thank you for everything.
I’ll stop talking now, you can come on in man and you can blow now if you want to, we’re through.
Peace, love, and gratitude, Raya Yarbrough
Just because - this is a recording I did of Moody’s Mood for Love, around 2002…wish I had a more recent one, but this will have to do.
[audio:http://www.rayayarbrough.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/moody.mp3|titles=Moody's Mood For Love - Raya Yarbrough]