Hip to the Hammond

DeFrancesco is coming over here with his current trio principally to showcase his latest release, In the Key of the Universe, which is in the running for a Grammy.

Joey DeFrancesco  (photo credit: MICHAEL WOODALL)
Joey DeFrancesco
(photo credit: MICHAEL WOODALL)
There are few more stirring sounds in the jazz-blues sphere than the rich velvety textures produced by the Hammond B3 organ. And, if it’s played well, the audience can quickly find itself on the verge of ecstasy.
There is something some beguilingly voluptuous, and almost sinfully alluring, about the waves of notes that wash – nay, flood – over you as you hear dense chordal clusters, and white hot arpeggios, elicited by that Hammond. And, if we’re talking about masters of the instrument we need go no further than Joey DeFrancesco, who is one of the stars of this year’s Tel Aviv Jazz Festival. The three-dayer will take place, for the second year running, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, December 18-20, after a 28-year berth at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
DeFrancesco is coming over here with his current trio, with Troy Roberts on saxophone and bass, and Michael Ode on drums, principally to showcase his latest release, In the Key of the Universe, which is in the running for a Grammy.
Amazingly, considering his relative tenderness of years, it is over 30 years since the now 48-year-old keyboardist, who also plays saxophone and trumpet, put out his debut recording. “I was 17 when my first record came out, actually I was 18. I recorded it when I was 17,” he recalls. Not that he was exactly a rookie when he made All of Me. “At that point I had been playing for 13 years. I had been on the scene for some time.
The word was around about this young musician. I was discovered by leading record producer and record company executive Dr. George Butler. I have been very prolific since then.” He could say that again. In the Key of the Universe is his third album as leader, with a sideman berth on around another 30 records, one of which was Miles Davis’s Amandla, which also came out 30 years
In fact, DeFrancesco was surrounded by creative musical enterprise from the word go. His grandfather was a reedman and his dad,  “Papa John” DeFrancesco, was an organist of some note and a recipient of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s Living Legend Award in 2013.
HAVING MUSICIAN antecedents helped paved the youngster’s way right into the heart of the hands on scene and, having a Hammond organ at home, and lots of recordings that featured the organ, he didn’t have to think twice about his choice of instrument. By the time he was just a little taller than a grasshopper’s knee he was thrust into the deep end of live jazz making. “My dad played, locally in Philadelphia and New Jersey, the Tri-state area. He wasn’t a touring musician. He had a trio, with organ, saxophone and drums. That was nice for me because, as I was a kid, when I could play a little bit he’d take me with him and I could sit in.”
The kid got a taste of the real deal. “I had my first experiences of [playing] live music, with live musicians. That was great.” At the time, Philadelphia had a thriving jazz scene, so DeFrancesco could catch artists, whose records he’d spun at home, doing their thing on stage. “I got to see some of the
By the time he was 10, DeFrancesco was mixing it with some of the elder statesmen of the jazz fraternity. “I got to play with saxophonist Hank Mobley and drummer Philly Joe Jones. I got a gig with them a place in Philadelphia called Gert’s Lounge. It was an organ club. They had their own organ.” The organist who was due to play with Mobley and Jones was Don Patterson but, for some reason, he couldn’t make the date. DeFrancesco was only too happy to step into the breach.
The jazz cats on the scene knew about the youngster. It is mark of his prodigious early developing gifts that his far more senior fellow musicians had no qualms about have an infant to hold down the fort. “I had a repertoire of about 10-15 standards, and I could play the blues, so I could make a
That precocious talent developed nicely over the years, and DeFrancesco became one of the prime movers behind the renaissance of interest in the Hammond B3 organ, in a jazz context. Like all his peers he was inspired by Jimmy Smith – who is generally considered to have popularized the organ – back in the 1950s.
Having other instruments in his arsenal helps DeFrancesco to expand his band’s sonic and stylistic horizons. He began playing the trumpet around 30 years ago, and last year added tenor saxophone. As Roberts also alternates instrumentally that leaves plenty of room for maneuver. “Troy will play bass on a few numbers in Tel Aviv, so we will also play as a saxophone, bass and drums trio.” There’s more. “Troy doubling up on bass is nice, because it gives me the opportunity to do some things when I play more in the piano fashion. That’s part of my playing too. When I started going to music school they didn’t have organs, so I had to get hip to playing the piano,” says DeFrancesco.
This is gonna be one hip gig in Tel Aviv on December 18, 10:30 p.m.
For tickets and more information: *9080 and www.zappa-club.co.il