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Joey DeFrancesco: Organ Master meets Crooner

R.J. DeLuke By

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It's so important to have fun, for people to see you having fun at what you're doing. Jazz, to me, has gotten way too serious with a lot of the younger generation.
Joey DeFrancesco is rightfully known as an incredibly talented organ player. He's got an array of solid CDs that document his rise to the top. He can fit into any setting, from hard bop to the electronic funk of 1980s Miles Davis. He can swing a room of lead balloons. This affable Italian can even croon Sinatra tunes and other standards, and plans on one day bringing out some interpretations of Louis Prima music. He's had the audacity to usurp his idol, the legendary Jimmy Smith, atop annual critics' polls.

He's only 32.

Critics and observers say he's responsible for the re-birth of the Hammond B3 and organ music's place jazz. That revival not only brought attention back to players like Dr. Lonnie Smith, Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff, but spawned new faces like Tony Monaco, Barbara Dennerlein, Larry Goldings and John Medeski. He feels good about that, and to that point, he's very direct. 'They say that, and they're right. I take full credit,' he said matter-of-factly, no self-effacing chuckle or aaww-shucks modesty attached.

But he's not conceited about it. It is what it is, a combination of good fortune and mad talent that placed this child prodigy into the limelight and returned the foot-tapping exhilaration of music driven by the Hammond B3 back to the public eye. And let's face it, this cat can play. He burns. Hell, his first professional gig was playing with Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley in clubs around his native Philadelphia' at the age of 10!! Most kids that age are just trying to get out of the 'little kid' club, hoping they can avoid Nerd Junction and Dork City along the way.

Conceit? No. Confidence? Yes.

If evidence is needed that ego isn't always in the driver's seat, check out the latest in his body of strong recordings. Falling in Love Again is produced largely as a vehicle to showcase a relatively unknown singer DeFrancesco has known and enjoyed for many years, Joe Doggs. It's a collection of standards put together with the express purpose of bringing Doggs to the public eye. Yeah, DeFrancesco cooks in typical fashion, but it's a disc to open people's eyes about the singing. And it's likely to make some noise.

Doggs 'is somebody I've known for years and really admired the way he sang and phrased and his arrangements. I always felt he should record. And I got in the position where I could pretty much do what I want with my recording, and I felt it was time to do it,' said DeFrancesco. 'These are tunes I remember hearing him sing. Together, we came up with a set of tunes we thought would be a good representation for the first recording. They really sound great, I think.'

When people here Doggs' Jimmy Scott tone, with livelier phrasing and swing, it's going to turn some heads. The arrangements of classic tunes, including 'But Not For Me,' 'Love For Sale,' 'My Romance,' and 'Pennies From Heaven' are all done by Doggs too. And it features players like Pat Martino, Kevin Eubanks and Ralph Moore augmenting DeFrancesco's powerful trio.

'Definitely. There's a big-time Jimmy Scott influence in Doggs' singing,' DeFrancesco said. 'It's a very eclectic style of singing. Either you love it or you hate it. But people that love it know it's a jazz style. It's not like Frank Sinatra or something like that, who I absolutely love. We all do. But it's a very stylistic thing.'

The organist also likes the fact that the music is not secondary to the singing. 'He likes it cookin' behind him. He doesn't like, 'I'm a singer. You just make background noise.' He wants to hear it cookin.' Hard.' This time around, DeFrancesco, who has a respectable singing style, ignored any temptation to sing with Doggs. 'We talked about it, but I just wanted people to really focus on what I'm doing musically and what he's doing vocally. We're going to do another one together. Maybe on that one we'll do some duets or something.'

DeFrancesco and Doggs have played numerous times together in Philly over the years, either sitting in at each other's club dates, or just jamming at one or the other's homes. And now that DeFrancesco has clout at Concord Records ' he's one of the producers of the album ' he was able to bring the project forward and have it carried through. He even has the ability to add stellar players to the mix, 'within reason.'

Right from the beginning, it was all done as a concept for him,' he said of Falling in Love Again. 'I brought it to them. They liked what they heard. I said, 'This is what I'd like to do.' It worked out. Concord is a jazz label that understands creativity. Sometimes, in the process of creating something, it might not always be the greatest thing, but that's what we do. They realize that.'

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