James Moody and Dizzy Gillespie go waaaaay back.

It was 1942 when the young and hungry saxophonist first saw legendary trumpeter Gillespie puff out his cheeks. Moody was in Greensboro, N.C., about to be discharged from the Air Force. Dizzy played. Moody swooned. And was invited to join the band.

"I played with Dizzy's band when I was 21 years old," says Moody. Thelonious Monk was the pianist, Kenny Clarke the drummer, Ray Brown on bass and Milt Jackson on vibro harp. "It was a big band. On 52nd Street, at the Spotlight. You know, back then, 52nd Street was the street for clubs. That was the heyday."

In the '60s -- after he went off on his own, recorded the classic, romantic "Moody's Mood for Love" and seduced the world -- Moody joined Gillespie's quintet. They toured for a while, then split up to form other small combos. During the past 20 years, they have reunited for various tribute concerts, including tonight's at the Kennedy Center. And this summer, they are getting together for an international tour with the United Nations band.

But perhaps their most telling teaming was last year, when Gillespie served as best man in Moody's wedding.

"We marched in to the cut by Dizzy on our new album 'Sweet and Lovely,' " Moody says, beaming. "And when we marched out, we played 'Melancholy Baby.' "

Gillespie and Moody will be joined by the Count Basie Orchestra, Marlena Shaw, Monty Alexander, Stanley Cowell, Joe Kennedy, Joey DeFrancesco and Kent Jordan for the Jazz Centennial Celebration tonight at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall at 8. Gillespie will also receive the ASCAP Duke Award, named for Duke Ellington. Tickets are $35 and $42.50 and are available at Ticketron or by calling Instant Charge at 467-4600. For information, call 331-9404.