Joey DeFrancesco, who introduced the richly enveloping sound of the Hammond B-3 organ roaring again into the jazz mainstream within the early Nineteen Nineties, reigning as its preeminent ace for greater than 30 years, died on Thursday. He was 51.
Gloria DeFrancesco, his spouse and supervisor, introduced his demise on social media, however didn’t present a trigger.
Few jazz artists in any period have ever dominated the musical language and widespread picture of an instrument the way in which DeFrancesco did with the organ — as early as 17, when his head-turning debut was launched on Columbia Data. He exhibited supreme technical command on the keyboard, reeling off ribbons of notes together with his proper hand. And he took full benefit of the sonic prospects offered by an organ console, with its drawbars, switches and pedal board; his organ might lurch abruptly from an ambient hum to a sanctified holler, or change timbres and textures in the course of a phrase. Like his idol and closest parallel, Jimmy Smith, he revealed new vistas on the instrument.
Additionally like Smith, DeFrancesco was emotionally evocative together with his sound, unfailingly reaching audiences with a soulful message rooted within the blues. His language encompassed not solely bebop and the blues but in addition the modal dialects of organist Larry Younger, and pianists like McCoy Tyner. His radiant model of virtuosity attracted collaborators starting from Miles Davis, whose band DeFrancesco joined whereas nonetheless a senior in highschool, to Van Morrison, with whom he made two latest albums. He’s prominently featured on Christian McBride’s 2020 launch For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver, which received the Grammy Award for Finest Massive Jazz Ensemble Album in April.
DeFrancesco made some 30 albums of his personal, a couple of of which contain an implicit passing of the torch from sterling predecessors like Smith and Jack McDuff. Different albums featured an array of kindred spirits, young and old, together with the tenor saxophone masters Illinois Jacquet, George Coleman, Houston Particular person and most just lately Pharoah Sanders. On his newest, Extra Music, DeFrancesco demonstrates his personal proficiency on tenor saxophone, in addition to trumpet, keyboards and vocals. “He had nothing left to show on organ,” McBride, who’s the host of the NPR program Jazz Night time in America, tells WRTI. “I feel that is why he took up trumpet and saxophone. I instructed him if he ever picked up bass, we would have some phrases!”
Like McBride, who interviewed DeFrancesco for a 2019 episode of Jazz Night time in America, he remained carefully related together with his native Philadelphia even lengthy after he’d made his residence elsewhere. Partly this was because of the deep custom of the organ combo in Philly — as Pat Martino, a guitar luminary who lower his tooth with a marquee technology of jazz organists there, implied in his 2011 autobiography, Right here and Now! (with Invoice Milkowski). Martino, who died final yr, hailed DeFrancesco within the e book as “an distinctive artist,” including: “As a participant, he is simply ferocious, in that custom of Jimmy Smith and all the good Philly organists.”
Born in Springfield, Pa. on April 10, 1971, Joseph DeFrancesco got here to music as a birthright. His father, often known as “Papa” John DeFrancesco, performed organ on the Philadelphia jazz scene; his grandfather and namesake, Joseph DeFrancesco, had performed saxophone and clarinet through the swing period of the Thirties, in upstate New York. His older brother, Johnny, is a blues guitarist.
Joey began out banging on a toy piano, however by age 4 he had graduated to his father’s organ, which hulked in the home at any time when it wasn’t arrange for a residency at a membership. He realized not solely from his father but in addition from distinguished organists like Trudy Pitts and Shirley Scott.
At age 9, Joey’s father introduced him to the Settlement Music Faculty, a neighborhood group with an extended historical past of mentoring younger expertise. The band, principally composed of highschool youngsters, was directed by Lovett Hines, who remembers that Joey was so little that when he sat on the piano bench, his toes would not contact the bottom.
“He was a terror on the organ,” remembers Hines, who stayed involved with DeFrancesco through the years. “You may possibly finest him on trumpet or tenor, however as soon as he sat down on the organ, it was throughout.”
DeFrancesco was solely 10 when he performed his first skilled gig, at Gert’s Cocktail Lounge on South Avenue, which held a jam session each Monday night time. Tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and drummer “Philly” Joe Jones had been regulars. By the point McBride met DeFrancesco at Settlement Music Faculty a couple of years later, “Joey was already an area famous person as a center schooler,” McBride remembers. “I used to be 12, he was 13. We had been the youngest ones within the band.”
DeFrancesco attended the Philadelphia Excessive Faculty for the Inventive and Performing Arts, the place his classmates included McBride, drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. He was the primary of their peer group to get a document deal, after his efficiency on the first annual Thelonious Monk Worldwide Jazz Piano Competitors impressed George Butler, a producer and A&R govt at Columbia.
He finally labored in a variety of conditions past the standard organ combo, together with a gaggle known as The Free Spirits, a fusion group with guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Dennis Chambers. However he additionally pulled others into his zone; even with McLaughlin, DeFrancesco discovered a foot-tapping groove, notably on a 1995 album titled After the Rain, with grasp drummer Elvin Jones.
In recent times, DeFrancesco took a targeted curiosity on what he known as “religious jazz,” starting from Sanders to Solar Ra, with a looking high quality and a extra open harmonic territory. As for his exploration on the organ, it was no totally different than it ever had been. “I’ve all the time been stretching the boundaries of the instrument since day one,” he instructed Philadelphia Weekly in 2019. “I’ve my influences, however no one’s performed the organ the way in which I play it.”
Further reporting by Josh Jackson of WRTI.