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The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia with Joey DeFrancesco at the Kimmel Center

Victor L. Schermer By

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The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia with Joey DeFrancesco
Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
Philadelphia, PA
June 1, 2019

The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia (JOP), under the leadership of trumpeter Terell Stafford, has produced a series of action-packed concerts at the Kimmel Center, featuring special guest artists, all with an emphasis on Philly musicians, musical contributions, and the so-called "Philadelphia style," which has been so assimilated into the jazz tradition that it's hard to define it any more. JOP just has a great cadre of locally based musicians playing exciting arrangements in a way that is interesting and often fun to hear. Stafford is a great emcee, livening things up with sometimes subtle humor, and always pointing out the Philly influences in each song and arrangement.

On this evening, JOP's guest artist was the iconic organist Joey DeFrancesco (read the June 2019 interview), who came of age in Philly in the 1970s eventually to become the standard bearer of jazz organ. Inspired by Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, and others, today no one can match his mastery of the instrument. He was featured only in the post-intermission set, but as soon as he came on, fireworks happened.

The concert was part of the Kimmel organ series. So it began with a solo intro by Lucas Brown, a more refined kind of player than DeFrancesco. At the stage console of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ (which has another console at the foot of the pipes above and behind the stage), Brown delivered a beautiful medley of standards and show tunes, with a haunting rendition of Monk's "Pannonica" popping up in the middle.

Stafford then came out and introduced the event. Someone in the audience sparred with him verbally, which provided some dark humor, and the JOP ensemble quickly got under way with a powerful big band version of McCoy Tyner's "Passion Dance," taken at a very fast clip with some hot solos by the venerable Dick Oatts on soprano saxophone Josh Richman on piano echoing Tyner's controlled ferocity, and Steve Fidyk sounding more like Basie drummer Sonny Payne than Elvin Jones.

John Coltrane's "Straight Street" was given a swing era feeling with an arrangement by Chestnut Hill's Jack Saint Clair. Following Mark Allen's baritone sax solo, the great and perhaps under-recognized Joe Magnarelli delivered a brilliant bit of machinations. The band followed up with Shirley Scott's "Basie in Line" in an arrangement by Count Basie's own Frank Foster. Tim Warfield, early influenced and guided by Scott (as was Stafford) delivered a magnificent tenor saxophone solo, with incomparable tone and his usual subtle improvisations. Then a swing arrangement of "It Happened to Me" (composed as a contrafact to "It Could Happen to You") embodied lush saxophone ensemble sounds of the WWII bands and a cleanly delivered trumpet solo by Stafford. Lucas Brown joined the JOP on the Cooper organ for the Songbook standard "Laura" which included a stunning trombone chorale. The set concluded with a masterful arrangement of "Perdido" provided to the group by legendary Philadelphia tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna On the side, so to speak, McKenna is compiling a set of "over the moon" arrangements that reflects his tenure with the Woody Herman band. Mr. McKenna and JOP: how about a CD together?

After the intermission, a relaxed Joey DeFrancesco, in a shiny black sport jacket, quietly walked on, adjusted the stops on the Cooper organ, and delivered a solo suite of Radio City Music Hall organ sounds that could have had the name Jimmy Smith written in big marquee letters. He then walked across the stage to the Hammond console and, with the band, knocked out a double time version of "Tennessee Waltz."

The energy level on stage and in the audience went up a few degrees for the remainder of the set. There was something about DeFrancesco that electrified the whole situation. Again the trombone section was featured in "Falling in Love Again," this time with solos by Randy Kapralick, Jarred Antonacci, Joe McDonough, and Chris Mele on bass trombone. DeFranceso's own composition, "The Tackle" raised the temperature still further, with him going all out, stirring up great solos by Mark Allen and Dick Oatts, culminating in Fidyk's Krupa-like drum solo.

DeFrancesco plays trumpet and saxophone, and on this occasion took out his tenor sax for a sultry version of "I'm a Fool to Want You." His sax playing sounded more like a good studio musician than a hip jazz nut, and it took Magnarelli on trumpet to bring out the musical subtleties of this very bluesy vocal tune. The excitement resumed with action-packed solos and trading eights and fours by Chris Farr and Warfield on "For Once in My Life," bringing that tune to a taut realization that it never had before.

Following a standing ovation by an audience overwhelmed by the DeFrancesco effect, the group delivered an encore of blues where Stafford, holding back on trumpet most of the night, blew his head off, and DeFranceso literally pulled out all the stops on the Hammond organ, making for a screaming, soulful ending. One can only hope that this amazing musician returns soon to this town to further awaken us from our slumber!

Set List: Part I (Orchestra): Medley (solo by Lucas Brown on pipe organ); Passion Dance (Tyner); Straight Street (Coltrane; arr. Saint Clair): Basie in Line (Shirley Scott; arr. Frank Foster); It Happened to Me (contrafact to It Could Happen to You); Laura (Lucas Brown on pipe organ); Perdido (arr. McKenna); Part II: (Orchestra with DeFrancesco) Introduction (DeFrancesco on pipe organ); Tenessee Waltz; Falling in Love Again; The Tackle (DeFrancesco); I'm a Fool to Want You; For Once in My Life; Encore: Blues.

Personnel: Joey DeFrancesco: organ (tenor saxophone on "I'm a Fool to Want You"; guest artist; Terrell Stafford: Artistic Director and trumpet; Dick Oatts, Chris Oatts: alto saxophone; Chris Farr, Tim Warfield, Jr.: tenor saxophone; Mark Allen: baritone saxophone; Nick Marchione, Jon Shaw, Tony DeSantis, Joe Magnarelli: trumpet; Randy Kapralick, Jarred Antonacci, Joe McDonough, Chris Mele: trombone; Lucas Brown: organ; Josh Richman: piano; Greg Kettinger: guitar; Lee Smith: bass; Steve Fidyk: drums.
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