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May 2009

“Papa” John DeFrancesco
Big Shot
Savant

If you lived in the greater Philadelphia area before 1980—even if you just drove through—you heard the name “Papa” John DeFrancesco. He was the dean of the Hammond organ at that time and an overlord of Philly’s hard-bop-and-deep-groove bar-jazz scene. Famously, Papa put aside his playing career for a minute to watch over his kid, Joey DeFrancesco, who by age 17 would start touring as a member of Miles Davis’ band. But by the mid-’90s, with Joey grown and on his own, not only did Papa resume his nights out behind the B3, he started recording: six albums in 16 years.

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Papa John DeFrancesco

Now with his pulpit steadied, Papa continues his preaching, not only with Joey along for the ride, but with his guitar-playing scion, John, to boot. Together with tenor saxophonist Jerry Weldon they make something cool blue and squeaking of Gene Ammons’ “Red Top” with some impressively flitting guitar runs from John and a tasty curlicue spin from Papa. The elder DeFrancesco continues the swirling on the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” with son John adding some handily aquatic electric piano to the slow, simmering proceedings.

Yet it’s the original numbers from the DeFrancesco clan that’ll keep you tuned in to what Papa can accomplish when he isn’t minding his kids: the rim-tapping revival-meeting blues of “Nola” complete with yakking sax runs and a muscular organ fill, the quietly lovely “Maricopa” that turns psychedelic, fast and brash before your very ears. Makes you wish the kids would’ve left the house sooner.

Originally published in May 2009
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