Joe Di Francesco, widely credited with bringing the organ back into vogue in jazz circles in recent decades, died Thursday. He was 51 years old.
His death was announced by his record label, Mack Avenue, which did not say where he died or the cause.
Mr. DeFrancesco had a musical genes: his father, John de Francesco, had been playing jazz since the 1950s. He dazzled listeners when he was a teenager.
“DeFrancesco—whose infectious and witty expressions make him as much fun to watch as to listen to—can tread, flatten fifths and combine quotes from Bird, Diz, Monk, and Miles with the polished stunt of the Eight,” wrote Jane Seymour of the Philadelphia Daily News in 1986 After observing a jazz band at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, where young Mr. DeFrancesco was a student at the time.
And Mr. Seymour added: “And all the time you watch and listen to it, you find a little bit of a voice within yourself chanting: “He is 15 years old!”“
Within two years, Mr. DeFrancesco toured with Miles Davis and opened for Bobby McFerrin and Grover Washington Jr. In 1989, at the age of 17, he played at Duke University with such famous musicians as trumpeter Clark Terry in a concert that announced the upcoming show Thelonious Monk Jazz Conservatory, which would open soon after.
“As Mr. Di Francesco played ‘The Sophisticated Lady’ of Doc Ellington, the older musicians smiled and whispered encouragement,” Jonathan Propper books From that presentation in The New York Times. “The distinct impression is that Mr. DeFrancesco was an example of hopes on the road to realization.”
He sure was well on his way to a massive career, one that included over 30 recordings as a bandleader, many others as a side element and countless concerts. Along the way he brought the organ back into fashion in jazz.
The Hammond B3 organ became a favorite in jazz circles in the 1950s, with Jimmy Smith, who had several successful albums on the Blue Note label, being the lead. But in 1975 the Hammond Company stopped making this instrument, and the trend of organ-based triangulation in jazz clubs faded away.
Mr. DeFrancesco was a multi-instrumentalist. He also plays the trumpet, saxophone, piano, and synthesizer. But he built his career playing an old-school B3.
He told The Associated Press in 1991, “I love synthesizers and play all that stuff, but you can’t beat the B3’s sound. The instrument has a very warm tone. It has contrasts. It has all those feelings inside. It has little bits of every instrument inside. It’s Like having an entire orchestra at your fingertips.”
Mr. Di Francesco’s debut album, “All of Me” was released in 1989, and dozens followed, with his musical interests ranging widely. Record his original music. The 2004 album was called “Joey DeFrancesco Plays Sinatra His Way.” His 2010 movie “Never Can Say Goodbye” reimagined Michael Jackson’s music. He collaborated on albums with Van Morrison, guitarist Danny Gatton, and others.
Guitarist Christian McBride had known Mr. DeFrancesco since they were students at the Settlements School.
“Joey Di Francesco has been the most creative and influential organist since Jimmy Smith,” he said in a statement. “In terms of taking the member to the next level and making him famous again for the younger generation, no one has done it like Joey.”
Mr. Seymour, who wrote decades ago about teenage Mr. DeFrancesco in Philadelphia and later became a Newsday critic, recalled Mr. DeFrancesco in a Facebook post on Friday.
He wrote: “His meteoric rise to fame did not surprise me at all.” “What he has done, over time, is how deep and perfect he has mastered the organ jazz tradition at all ends of the musical spectrum, from blues and funk to post-pop and avant-garde incantations. He has fulfilled his calling commitments by standing still, uncompromisingly selfless. “.
Mr. Di Francesco was born on April 10, 1971 in Springfield, near Philadelphia. He did not wait long to choose his career path.
He told the Boston Herald in 1994, “When I was four, my dad brought this terrible thing, the B3, and turned it on. It has an engine and a generator. I start it and the sound moves me. Being four and making up your mind what you want to be You do for the rest of your life – I was very lucky.”
He of course credited his father with being his first influence.
“You can’t be better than having a father who plays the same instrument you do,” he said. “The music I’ve heard since I was born has been jazz.”
An “event” helped propel his career: as a teenager he performed on a local television show in Philadelphia when Miles Davis was the featured guest. The veteran Jazzman was impressed, and Mr. DeFrancesco ended up touring with him for six months.
He has released a steady stream of albums, five of which have received Grammy nominations, including, most recently, “In the Key of the Universe” (2019). On his latest album “More Music” (2021), which features 10 original tracks, he played six different instruments and delivered some pretty good vocals.
His wife Gloria survived. His daughter Ashley. son Donnie. his parents, John and Lauren; his sister Cheryl; and his brother John.
Mr. DeFrancesco was a bit like a showman, even when he was a side guy. In 2010, for example, he played with a trio led by saxophonist David Sanborn. Mr. Sanborn was the leader, but like Nate Chennin Books in the Times Of the three gigs, “often Mr. DeFrancesco’s show, sometimes more.”
If he’s more brilliant than some of his contemporaries, then it’s intentional, Mr. Di Francesco told The Buffalo News in 2004.
“I think these new players are very serious,” he said. “The joy in it, and the fun in it, is something jazz has lost. I mean, we’re artists, after all. If you don’t look like you’re having fun on stage, how is anyone in the audience supposed to do?”
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