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Joey DeFrancesco and Pharoah Sanders: Meeting of the Spirits

For his latest project, one of jazz's greatest organists has joined forces with a true man of the universe

Joey DeFrancesco. (photo by: Raj Naik).

Although DeFrancesco is generally seen as a mainstream jazz player, a throwback to the days of Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, he’s always been open to other sounds and styles. During this year’s Jazz Cruise, he performed an impromptu duo set with pianist Chucho Valdés that was a highlight of a week with more than 100 hours of music. Conversely, DeFrancesco feels that avant-garde jazz players are often unfairly judged as wanting in fundamentals. “A big misconception about a lot of the free or spiritual jazz players is that they just play anything,” he explains. “They know exactly every note that they’re playing.”

He points to Sanders’ discography as ample evidence of his virtuosity and openness. “You have records with the ballads … he did a record with Benny Golson, a tribute to John [Coltrane]”—2000’s This Is for You, John—“and they’re playing changes. If you talk to him about music, he loves everything. It could be the most inside thing and he says, ‘Wow, that’s a nice tune. That guy’s got a great sound.’”

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