My introduction to Joey’s music was in 1995 when I was given his Live at the 5 Spot CD as a Christmas gift and immediately fell in love. It was literally all I listened to for the longest time, and though I played organ already, hearing that recording was what sent me down the life-long path of learning all things jazz organ, with Joey as the cat I wanted to sound like.
Flash-forward to 1997. I joined this Hammond Mailing list. A thread started about “tapping” the bass pedals, and how Jack McDuff would choose the note he would “tap” or thud in tandem with his left-hand bass line. Fearless at the time, with a form of keyboard courage—I was very confident that you would play bass only by walking on the bass pedals, not left hand—I made comments to that effect on this mailing list. Well, someone responded to me that I really needed to rethink what I was saying and check out the right way of doing that tap. Of course, I wouldn’t back down and the exchange went on for almost a week, all in front of a few thousand people. That is, until a close friend sent me a message: ‘You know you’ve been arguing with, don’t you?” I was flustered by the exchanges and didn’t really care who they were. Until my friend let me know that I was arguing with Joey DeFrancesco.
My heart dropped into my stomach. I immediately sent an email to Joey, apologizing that I had no idea it was him and that I felt like an idiot. Fifteen minutes later I got a reply and the only thing in the message was a phone number. I was frozen, until I got the courage to pick up the phone and call. When he answered, the first thing he asked me was how my left foot was doing. That was the beginning of a 25+-year mentorship and close friendship.
After graduating college, I ended up living in Denver for a while. And since Joey and I stayed in touch I decided to ask him and his drummer Byron Landham if they would be interested in doing a 2-B-3 concert with me. They were, and we packed the place. Looking back, I was out of my mind to do this. I didn’t crash and burn, but I was thoroughly schooled by Joey and Byron. I’m sure this concert was one of the factors that led to me touring with them. Though I was playing more keys and less organ, I was a member of Joey’s trio for about a year and a half.
His knowledge and passion for the organ was unparalleled. He was literally a walking encyclopedia of all things jazz organ. He knew the languages of Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, McGriff, Jack McDuff, Larry Young, Shirley Scott, Groove, et cetera, and if he wanted to, he could sound exactly like any of them when he played. His parents, Papa John DeFrancesco and Laurene, were always supportive of him. On top of that, growing up in Philadelphia allowed Joey to actually be mentored by so many of the greats mentioned above at a young age. He got all the information direct from the sources. He was also very generous with sharing information with those who were serious about learning.
What Jimmy Smith did for the organ in the 1950s, Joey did even more so when he came on the scene in the late ’80s. Each brought innovations to the music and the instrument, but Joey brought listeners back to the Hammond as well as introducing many to the B-3 for the first time. More so, Joey inspired many of us to play organ. If it wasn’t for Joey, many of the current “well known” organists — including myself — would not be playing today. I owe much of my career to him both in the inspiration he gave and what he’s done for me, personally and professionally. I will be forever grateful to him and for him. Joey should still be here with us, but he will live on through his music and through so many of the musicians he inspired.” [As told to A.D. Amorosi]