Part 1: Miles Ahead
Joey DeFrancesco is the premier Hammond B3 player of the modern age. Starting out in his teens with Miles Davis, DeFrancesco has become the de facto poster boy for jazz organ, and rightfully so. His blazing chops, outstanding collaborations, and rock-solid recording output have all cemented his status in the Hammond Hall of Fame. Including DeFrancesco's 1989 debut (All Of Me), he has released 15 albums under his own name, including two - Hip Cake Walk and Singin' & Swingin' - already this year.
Musician.com spoke with Joey a day after his B3 summit with contemporary Larry Goldings, whose playing has graced the recordings of Jim Hall, Maceo Parker and John Scofield. The two had never shared a stage, and dueled it out on a pair of Hammond organs.
Musician.com: How much competitiveness is there between you and Larry?
Joey DeFrancesco: It's a friendly thing. Real musicians usually won't think about it like that.
Musician.com: That may be so, but your performance was really crushing last night!
JD: That's just how I play. I wasn't intentionally trying to hurt him!
Musician.com: Did you start out playing piano or organ?
JD: I started on organ. It's always been my main instrument. I played piano later on, when they didn't have organs in school.
Musician.com: You play trumpet as well, and recorded with [contemporary jazzers] Hiroshima. How did you pick it up?
JD: I picked it up around the same time I was playing with Miles, when I was 17. That's what got me into it - watching him. Although, I always loved trumpet, and listening to it really made me want to play.
Musician.com: Have you always had a great ear for picking up instruments?
JD: Pretty much, yeah.
Musician.com: Have you had to sight read at all?
JD: I've never been a sight reader.
Musician.com: So how did you handle the early jazz competitions?
JD: I learned everything by ear.
Musician.com: How did you and your parents react to the offer to play with Miles?
JD: My dad was always a big Miles fan. My mom, too. I was a senior in high school, and I actually had a tutor go [on tour] with me. I graduated with my class and everything. It was an unbelievable experience.
Musician.com: When was your first meeting with him?
JD: The initial meeting was just me going over to his apartment and playing a little something. He asked me right there, "You wanna play with the band?" and I said yes. We rehearsed 3 or 4 days before we went on a 6-week European tour.
Musician.com: You grew up in Philadelphia, but your family came from Buffalo. Both have been known as Meccas for organists, particularly Philadelphia. Did you move to Philly just by chance?
JD: Totally by chance. My dad [reknowned organist Papa John DeFrancesco] moved to Philly. He was working for Boeing and playing at night. He always had a job 'cause he was always nervous about being a full-time musician and taking care of the family. It's a hard thing to do sometimes. So that's why he went to Philly. I was the only one born in Philly, and I grew up being around a lot of the greats, like Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff.
Musician.com: Is there still a jazz organ scene in Philadelphia? And are there other towns that are really hip to jazz organ?
JD: Definitely. Chicago is like that, and so is Cleveland.
Musician.com: Your father has been described as a "hard-bop" player. Do you feel that's accurate?
JD: He's a true organ player. A funky, groovin', bluesy jazz organist.
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