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Papa John DeFrancesco: It's All In The Name!

By Published: April 15, 2008
"My son John, too... He's a guitarist, you know." Johnny DeFrancesco is a talented and successful jazz and blues guitarist. "He's on a couple of my albums Walkin' Uptown..., Jumpin. He's on almost every one... And my daughter... played horn for a while, saxophone... My grandkids, one's a trumpet player, one's a percussionist... and the little girl's playing piano. So they're all still involved one way or another." DeFrancesco later stated. "Yeah, I'm proud of all my kids, but... you know... it's pretty neat!"

Laurene DeFrancesco not only shares her husband's commitment to family, but can also take credit for contributing to their children's musical heritage. Her father was also a musician. Papa John recalled "He was a saxophonist and, in fact, her dad and my dad used to gig together... So the kids don't have a chance. They've got music all over the place...! Poor kids! [chuckles]

DeFrancesco openly demonstrates his pride and affection for his family. But he also has much to be proud of in his own continued accomplishments. In between periodic tours, he's found time to record 8 albums as a single artist, and continues to be in demand for live performances. Headlining the Glendale Jazz Festival this year, Papa John DeFrancesco has teamed with sax legend David "Fathead" Newman. And, a new album is in the planning stages as well. "I'm not in the studio yet, but I'm getting all the music together. There's going to be a lot of swingin' stuff on there. And plus maybe a couple of funk tunes... Probably a ballad or two."

Later, I mentioned the fact that people sometimes refer to Jazz as a dying art form, and DeFrancesco seemed to chafe somewhat. "I hate it when they say that...! But you know, I don't see how it could die. I mean, if you listen to half of the commercials, most of them have pretty good music. You know? Sometimes, the cartoons are the hippest!" He's right, of course, that jazz is nearly omni-present, on TV, movies, and advertising of every kind. Jazz is not dying, but perhaps it is suffering an identity crisis.

"Jazz is here to stay. It's the American classical music, the African-American classical music really... I think it's just not played... not 'airtime....' I mean they have all these musical shows on TV [and] they never talk about jazz... They used to have the Grammy's... used to have jazz on there. [Now,] they tell you who won, but [the jazz artists] never play."

Papa John DeFrancesco

Obviously doing his own part to ensure that jazz stays vibrant and alive, DeFrancesco regularly offers encouragement to young musicians. Young jazz musicians are invited to come "sit in" with DeFrancesco and his band at Bobby C's in Phoenix, Arizona. "When we're playing there at Bobby C's... we encourage that!

I was curious whether he sometimes gets frustrated, working with younger jazz musicians, players still trying to develop their skills and style. "Have I ever gotten upset by young cats? Naw! Hey man, I was young once too. And I was trying to 'pick brains' too... That's how you learn, man... We used to jam all the time. There were a lot of places to jam back in the day. That's how most of the cats learned... Bring your ax, come out and play. It's encouraged. If you can play, then come on over. You know, we'll work it out."

Selected Discography:

Papa John DeFrancesco, Desert Heat (Savant, 2006)
Papa John DeFrancesco, Walking Uptown (Savant 2004)
Papa John DeFrancesco, Jumpin' (Savant, 2003)
Papa John DeFrancesco, Hip Cake Walk (Highnote, 2001)

Photo Credit
Michael and Mikayla Gilbreath

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