My Conversation with Joey DeFrancesco article @ All About Jazz

Interview

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From the 1995-2003 archive: This first article appeared at All About Jazz in February 2000.

Whatever can be said of Joey De Francesco, there is no denying his impact on his fans, many of whom lined up for hours at a local hole in the wall in my hometown of Fullerton to see the organ player on a Friday night. So for the benefit of those fans, I present unto you, the primetime organist of his generation, unedited and in his own words.

All About Jazz: Let’s start from the beginning.

Joey DeFrancesco: I guess the first thing would be my dad, John De Francesco, Papa John as he’s known, who is also a jazz organist. So at a very young age, I heard the organ music and the organ in the house. When I was real little, I remember listening to

Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith

organ, Hammond B3
1925 – 2005

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Jimmy Smith records,

Jimmy McGriff
Jimmy McGriff

organ, Hammond B3
1936 – 2008

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Jimmy McGriff,

Jack McDuff
Jack McDuff

organ, Hammond B3
1926 – 2001

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Jack McDuff, along with my dad’s playing. So I was attracted to it right away.

AAJ: Has it been difficult having to follow your father’s legacy?

JDF: Not at all. He never forced or pressured me, because he didn’t have to because I loved it so much. I guess that was what was good about it. I just wanted to do it and he kind of let me at my own pace.

AAJ: Do you recall your first gig?

JDF: Yeah, actually, I remember sitting in with my dad’s gig and he was playing at a club. He always played on weekends. I went and sat in with his group and it was in Philly at a place called the Gridiron. I was six years old. From the time I was about six until ten, I pretty much played sitting in on gigs that he had. When I was ten, I was lucky. I joined a trio. I had a gig up in Philly with a trio. It was organ, saxophone, and drums. It was myself, Philly Joe Jones, and Hank Mobley. Here I was, a ten-year-old kid playing with these legends and I didn’t even realize it at the time.

AAJ: Influences?

JDF: As you go along, you start hearing other things and start picking up other influences from different people and the list just goes on and on. It’s really hard to pinpoint anybody, but if I were going to name just a few people, it would be my dad, of course. I love Jimmy Smith. I think that’s probably obvious.

Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson

piano
1925 – 2007

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Oscar Peterson,

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock

piano
b.1940

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Herbie Hancock,

Miles Davis
Miles Davis

trumpet
1926 – 1991

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Miles Davis,

John Coltrane
John Coltrane

saxophone
1926 – 1967

” data-original-title=”” title=””>John Coltrane, I guess everybody’s favorites. Those would be my main influences.

AAJ: You mentioned Miles Davis, whom you collaborated with when you were quite young.

JDF: Sure, my recollection of that whole thing, really would sum it all up, Miles was a wonderful, wonderful guy. I had a great relationship with him. He was cool, a nice man, very gentle, quiet guy. It might sound surprising to a lot of people, but that’s really what I got out of the time that I spent with him. It invited me to do a tour of Europe with him, 1988, fall of ’88. I toured with him for six months with his group. Unfortunately, at that time, my first record came out with Columbia and they wanted me to tour to promote that, so I kind of had to leave Miles. But we remained good friends all the way up until he died in ’91. Playing with him was great. You learn how to play the right thing, knowing that everything he plays is going to come out and sound good. It takes time to learn that and get your own sound, to not play as many notes, although I’m not past that stage yet.

AAJ: It sounds as though his impact on your musical direction was quite significant?

JDF: Yeah, definitely, just because of listening to him play and just the conversations I used to have with him. I was a Miles fan before I played with him. But when you start hanging around the guy, you become more of a fan. You really start digging deep and listening to his music and all the different pieces that he’s created over the past forty years, fifty years really. You start realizing how much stuff you have to learn and when you start listening to that music, you learn more things. I had the advantage through playing with him to ask him questions about the music that he did. He was always very gracious in answering. As much as he thought that you can’t go back and play that way and all that, you know, that was his favorite stuff. All he talked about was the old days and that music. Miles always played his way too. He just changed his surroundings.

AAJ: Let’s touch on your new release, The Champ on the High Note label.

JDF: OK, The Champ is very self-explanatory. It’s my little tribute to my greatest idol, Jimmy Smith, who is undoubtedly the king of the Hammond jazz organ. I just wanted to pay homage to him by playing some of the key tunes that he was known for during the course of his very long career. I’m a very big aficionado of all his recordings. Everything on there, all the arrangements were pretty authentic, the way he would have played those songs live. They were more his live approach than what was on his records. In fact, that was the reason

Billy Hart

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Billy Hart played drums on there. He played with Jimmy Smith for like three and a half years. That was the material that they were playing with at the time. That’s why he was on that record. I was in between labels at the time and I’ve got a good relationship with Joe Fields and Barney Fields and I got this idea that popped into my mind. I happened to talk to Joe because I was doing another session for him. He said, “Let’s do it yesterday.” So we did it.

AAJ: You are no longer between labels. In fact, you have just released your debut with your new label, Concord Records entitled Goodfellas.

JDF: It’s different just because of the last names (laughing). Everybody was picked because of their names on there. Hopefully, we thought that we would play good together, because we never played before we recorded that record. We all knew each other’s music by the records. We didn’t even know each other personally. John Burk, at Concord Records, thought of the idea because he had all of these Italian names on the label. We need to do a mob record. That’s how that came about, so it was myself, Frank Vignola, Joe Ascione, who had been playing some with Frank Vignola on several projects. I had checked them out. We all had checked each other out and then we went into the studio and called off tunes that we grew up listening to that were associated with the Italian-American neighborhoods and movies and all that kind of thing and basically had a party.

AAJ: A couple of pisanos from the old neighborhood, the session must have been a breeze?

JDF: Oh, it was really smooth. We had a ball. We had a really good time.

AAJ: With the advent of bands like

Medeski Martin & Wood
Medeski Martin & Wood

band/orchestra

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Medeski Martin & Woodthere has been a recent resurgence in the popularity of the organ, what do you attribute that to?

JDF: Well, you want me to really be honest? I feel that I have been very instrumental in that whole thing. I’m not being egotistical in any way. It’s just a fact because, and I will explain it to you having said that, when my record came out in 1989, debuting on Columbia Records (All Of Me), big label, a guy, seventeen years old, playing the organ in a style that was created in the early ’50s and ’60s. It really died out in the ’70s because of synthesizers. The guys that were playing like Jimmy Smith, went into semi-retirement at that time, McGriff, a lot of guys did in the ’70s and then in the ’80s, slowly they would be doing gigs and they had their crowds and their followings , but for a long time there was not anybody new on the horizon. When my record came out, being on a big label and able to get to a wide variety of people and being younger, seventeen, it just kind of, all this stuff happened at the right time. The record came out. The organ just sparked an interest. If anybody does their homework, if you go back to 1989, I was the only organ record out there, out there cooking it and doing great like that. Around ’91, ’92, you started seeing people like

Barbara Dennerlein
Barbara Dennerlein

organ, Hammond B3
b.1964

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Barbara Dennerlein and a lot of the guys that played it for years came out of the woodwork. Now, for the last three or four years,

Larry Goldings
Larry Goldings

organ, Hammond B3
b.1968

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Larry Goldings has been playing. I actually influenced him. He was playing strictly piano before that. I’ve known him for years, so I feel very responsible for the resurgence of the organ.

AAJ: You think the mainstream press is slighting you in a sense?

JDF: I say it would be fifty-fifty. More and more people are starting to realize it. It’s getting really strong to where they know. Since I’ve been out, I’ve been number two on the Downbeat Poll under Jimmy Smith, with very few votes behind him, but I should be because he’s the king and he belongs there. That’s why I don’t like polls anyway.

AAJ: What is your favorite mob movie?

JDF: When I did the record I thought it was Goodfellas because I titled it that. But I love the Godfather. I liked Casino a lot too.

AAJ: Give me a handful of your favorite records.

JDF: I’m always listening to Jimmy Smith’s, they just came out with this Rudy Van Gelder Edition on Blue Note, and they came out with this record, Groovin’ at Small’s Paradise, which I had when I was a kid. It was my dad’s so it was worn out. Now, they have it on CD and they have all the material. It’s a live gig in New York. Small’s Paradise is the name of the club. It’s got all these tunes, uncut and unedited and Jimmy is playing like a madman. That’s my favorite listening record right now. That’s one of them.

Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra

voice / vocals
1915 – 1998

” data-original-title=”” title=””>Frank Sinatra‘s Only the Lonely (Capitol) is one of my favorites. So many of John Coltrane’s, Ballads (Impulse) and, of course, Miles Davis’s My Funny Valentine (Columbia). Those are probably my desert island records.

AAJ: I was floored that you packed them in to a little club in the middle of Orange County, for those that come see you and hear your music, what would you like them to take away?

JDF: As long as they go away feeling good and they feel like they’re hearing something really good and it made them feel good and they come back. They liked it and I made them happy, that’s how I want them to leave.

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