Joey DeFrancesco: Organ Master meets Crooner
'I had already done my record with Columbia [ All of Me ] and it didn't come out yet, but I had a deal. I got that before Miles. A lot of people think I got that because of Miles. He had no idea I had a deal or anything. He heard me on a local TV show in Philly. He was on the show that same day, being interviewed. After the show, he came up to me and punched me in the chest and said, 'You can play, motherfucker. Gimme your phone number.' So I gave him the number. He said to send him a tape. I sent him a tape. This was in November of 1987. In July of 1988 he called me. He said, 'You wanna join the band?' I was like, 'Oh shit!' all right.' I went up to New York and went up to his apartment. That's how it all happened.'
Miles, of course, was in his funk period, but DeFrancesco knew the music and fit in. Even with the synthesizers.
'Definitely. I was a Miles fan. Everything he did. My favorite stuff at that time was the stuff with Trane, Red Garland, Philly Joe, Paul Chambers. But I was very familiar with what he was doing up to that point also. I went out and got a couple synthesizers and went on the road. Went to Europe for six weeks. It was completely different. I was into synthesizers and stuff like that, though. I still am.
'He was great to be around. He was great to me. I can't say anything negative about Miles Davis. He treated me great. He was wonderful to be around. He was always a gentleman. Just a nice man. I learned a lot. He used to tell me little things all the time, which, maybe I didn't understand as much as I do now. He'd always say, 'You'll understand this more when you get older.''
From there, it's been a good ride for DeFrancesco. And he's also tried to give back, and not just with the introduction of Doggs on the new CD. He's encouraging to young musicians if they want to sit in a t a club date, because it was things like that which helped him develop. 'whenever I see a young kid come out, a little kid like I was, I try to embrace that. If they say they play, I get them up there and play. Because that's important. In Philly, every Tuesday and Wednesday there's a jam session. At a place called Ortlieb's Jazzhaus you can go and put your name on a list and get up there and play. That's how you've got to learn, you've got to get your butt kicked.'
He also produced Monaco's first CD, Burnin' Grooves. 'I heard him and said, 'We need more guys like this.' It helps us all,' he said.
DeFrancesco has amalgamated his various influences, like Jimmy Smith, into his own style that is influencing others. His inspiration comes from other musicians too, through the history of the music. 'There's so many. I've met most of my idols, except guys that are no longer with us, like Trane. Coltrane was a huge influence. Herbie [Hancock], who's a great guy, incredible player. I could go on and on. It's tough to really pick them. You take all of these different influences you like from all these different players. Gil Evans put it the best way. You pour it all into a funnel and you come out the bottom as yourself.'
'I'm having a ball. Working all the time, I feel very fortunate,' he said in his simple, joyful way, adding with a laugh, 'People seem to want to hear my silly shit.'
And silliness is a part of it. DeFrancesco doesn't think a stoic attitude is beneficial to the performance. People want to be entertained, he said, and there's no reason not to entertain them. He laughs easily, sings, and can even play some trumpet to keep people interested at the gig. His advice to jazz musicians today: Lighten up.
'Jazz, to me, has gotten way too serious with a lot of the younger generation. They're great players and musicians, and when you get off the bandstand with them, you have a ball. They're all great guys. But they look like they're miserable on the stage. I don't think people wanna watch that, you know? Years ago, Coltrane used to move around like a maniac. In the 50s, he walked the bar, man. Now, fuggetaboutit. You're not allowed to have fun. But that's what this is, man. It's show business. You can still have the musical integrity. Be serious about the music, but have fun. I have a ball. Look at Dizzy Gillespie. One of the greatest trumpet players who invented the shit. He'd dance around and act foolish. People loved to watch.'
DeFrancesco plans to use more synthesizers in future projects, but the Hammond is where he lives. As he says, it's his voice that even computers and advanced technologies can't fully duplicate. 'It's like trying to duplicate the saxophone or the trumpet. They just can't duplicate those instruments. I still love synthesizers and I use them. I'm going to be using them a lot more than I have before to do different things. But the B3 has a sound all of it's own. The real deal is the real deal.'