Saxophonist Moody’s showmanship elevates show |
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Saxophonist James Moody brings more than great jazz to a concert.

Thursday at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, he provided quirky songs, a few jokes and great stage banter. He even knew how to lift the show when it fell a slight victim to some technical glitches.

Moody and singer Little Jimmy Scott opened the 21st season of jazz programming at the North Side school and arts center.

Moody’s playing, which has been a jazz force for more than 40 years, was the dominant element in the show, as he rolled through classic material such as John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and “Body and Soul.”

Probably his strongest moment of showmanship, however, came as Scott finished his portion, plagued by some microphone problems.

Scott, like Moody, is 82. He, however, has an ailment sometimes called Keller’s syndrome that, among other problems, causes weak formation of bones and keeps the voice at a prepubescent level.

Looking frail in a wheelchair, Scott offered three songs that clearly identified him in their high pitch and Thelonious Monk-like sense of rhythm.

There were hints of mike problems in his first song, “Embraceable You,” but they got steadier and more frustrating in his last, “I Cried for You.” Combined with his lack of clear diction, the technical flaws didn’t help his set.

Moody, however, set the concert back on course by going into one of his bits of musical humor. He did a song based on “Pennies From Heaven” about a soldier returning home after three years and being presented with a son by his wife.

How could this be, he wonders, and she tries to explain in the title of the piece: “Bennie’s From Heaven.”

He followed that with “Moody’s Mood,” his offbeat version of “I’m in the Mood for Love,” which is something of a must at every Moody show. Thursday he even had a short rap session in the middle of it.

Humorous singing and jokes are trademarks of a Moody show. But the reason for his presence, obviously, is his great playing.

His tone, his thematic statements, his improvisation all are so consistently strong he never disappoints, whether he is with his quartet or in a big band.

He is joined at these concerts by pianist David Hazeltine, drummer Dennis Mackrel and bassist Todd Coolman, his music director. Even though Moody is the headliner of this group, he gave each plenty of room practically in every song.

Coolman and Mackrel, who also works with Moody in the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band, stood out constantly with their strong rhythmic support,

Even with a lesser group, though, Moody would have been enough to kick off the season. Additional Information:

James Moody and Little Jimmy Scott

When : 7 and 9:30 p.m. today; 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Admission : $42.50

Where : Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, 1815 Metropolitan St., North Side

Details : 412-322-0800

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