Picture from the artist’s website joeydefrancesco.com
This year’s Herts Jazz Festival has quite a coup on its hands with its Saturday 6 October headliner, one of the world greats of the Hammond organ – reviews refer to him as a “master” or “giant” or even “titan” of the instrument – Joey DeFrancesco, four-time Grammy nominee, and an alumnus (eg) of bands led by Miles Davis (who took De Franceso into his band at the age of 17), John McLaughlin and of a trio with Larry Coryell and Jimmy Cobb.
DeFrancesco will be appearing with his regular quartet, the Herts gig being the quartet’s only UK appearance this year. I interviewed him briefly last week in anticipation of it.
The quartet who will appear at the Herts Jazz Fest: DeFrancesco on keyboards, trumpet, vocals, organ, with Troy Roberts (saxophones), Dan Wilson (guitar) and Michael Ode (drums), is in fact exactly the same group who made the album with Van Morrison You’re Driving Me Crazy, released earlier this year. The original invitation to make that album came from Van Morrison. Morrison was asked about Joey DeFrancesco and his group by the New York Times and responded: “These guys are such brilliant soloists. And Joey’s kind of like a genius in his own right.”
Press play for the title track below:
DeFrancesco was born in Springfield Pennsylvania,in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the son of an organist. Who knows if there was music in the water (there probably was), but there was certainly music in his high school class: it included bassist Christian McBride, percussionist Questlove and also the members of the vocal group Boyz to Men.
There is a Christian McBride link in the current band. The bassist became aware of guitarist Dan Wilson, from Akron, Ohio, through his work with DeFrancesco, and took him on as a member of his hard-swinging Tipp City Trio. I was captivated by their gig in Montreal and wrote in my review that I came away full of admiration for Dan Wilson’s artistry and, in particular, his “urge to play melodically and to propose all kinds of counter-melodies with ease, shape and balance. Wonderful player.”
Looking at Joey DeFrancesco’s career, the striking thing is the varied contexts in which he has appeared, and the evidence that he is entirely comfortable in harmonic contexts which are both conventional and more adventurous. In the 1990s he was in a trio with John McLaughlin: “You had to up the ante harmonically,” he remembers.
When we spoke briefly last week he came up with two short sentences which explain how and why he is so comfortable in such a wide range of idioms. Firstly his attitude is clearly one of openness: “I love all genres of music.” And when I tried to ask him about specific influences – McCoy Tyner’s piano playing has been mentioned for example – he stressed that above all he listens widely: “I’m like a big sponge,” he explained.
And is there a direction of travel in his playing currently? “I find myself going in a freer direction,” he says. He enjoys the idea of the possibilities becoming ever more limitless. And will the Herts Jazz Festival audience hear a pre-determined set list? Certainly not. It will be a mixture of standards and originals, but the choices are made spontaneously on the night. And what instrument does he play? He is supplied with one of own “Legend” signature models, made by Italian manufacturer Viscount (website) .
The word “Legend” is there in raised lettering on the instrument. It also describes the player. (pp)
DETAILS: Broadway Theater, Eastcheap, Letchworth Garden City, SG6 3DD
6 October at 8pm
LINK: Bookings for Joey DeFrancesco at Herts Jazz Festival