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Jazz great Joey DeFrancesco, who was born in 1944, dies at age 51

Jazz great Joey DeFrancesco, the best B3 player on the planet, died at age 51.



Joey DeFrancesco was once called “the best B3 player on the planet” by Jazz Times. Because it should be self-evident.

Late on Thursday, DeFrancesco passed away. He was 51.

His label, Mack Avenue, made the announcement official on their websites and social media pages. Gloria DeFrancesco, who is also his manager and wife, posted the news on her own social media accounts. Unfortunately, she did not reveal the reason for her death.

She concluded by saying, “May the love of my life rest in the arms of the angels.” “I can’t say much right now. We appreciate the widespread expressions of sympathy and solidarity. Joey had a lot of affection for everyone.”

When DeFrancesco was only 16, he signed with Columbia Records and a year later, he released his debut album, titled “All of Me.” At the age of 17, he accompanied Miles Davis on a five-week European tour. Because of that tour, he was able to play keyboards on Davis’ album “Amandla,” which was released in 1989.

From Philadelphia to Arizona, DeFrancesco

DeFrancesco moved to Arizona after becoming a well-known jazz organist and launching his career in Philadelphia, where he was born. He attended the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.

The executive director of the Nash in downtown Phoenix, where DeFrancesco frequently performed, Joel Goldenthal, said, “There’s just no way to wrap your head around this loss.”

“Such a magnificent human being he was. In short, he was unparalleled. However, that’s far too tame of a description. No one else has ever been or ever will be as skilled a musician as he was.”

Goldenthal says that despite his wealth of talent, DeFrancesco remained remarkably modest.

For all his size, “he was as down to earth and unassuming as a giant,” Goldenthal enthuses. In a nutshell, “he embodied all of those characteristics.”

The death of DeFrancesco “is just unfathomable,” as one person put it.

As the legendary drummer Lewis Nash is honored with the naming of the Nash, Goldenthal fondly recalls watching a delighted DeFrancesco listen to the playback of their recent recording session.

“They were dancing around the Nash,” he says with a chuckle in his memory. “He resembled a bear doing the tango. Seeing these two masters of jazz music dance together was the cutest thing ever.”

Goldenthal thinks it reflects “the joy he had in what he did, the joy of making music and the joy of sharing it.”

Goldenthal’s loss is compounded by the fact that he was only 51 years old.

When asked about the loss of jazz greats, Goldenthal said, “Those of us in the jazz world, we live with the reality that so many of the legends of this art form are leaving us because of their age.” It’s impossible to fathom losing a young superstar like Joey.

Arizona State University’s School of Music is led by Mike Kocour, who directs the department’s Jazz Studies program.

Although tragic, Kocour asserts, “Joey DeFrancesco did not shortchange the world.” “He was very productive. No one, even if they lived to be 90 years old, comes to mind who has accomplished more.”

He revitalized interest in the jazz organ, they say.

DeFrancesco has won DownBeat’s Critics Poll for organists a whopping nine times, and the readers’ poll every year since 2005.

As NPR noted in their coverage of his death, “Few jazz artists in any era have ever dominated the musical language and popular image of an instrument the way DeFrancesco did with the organ.”

Kocour is multi-talented, playing multiple instruments.

According to Kocour, “no one was interested in presenting groups with jazz Hammond B3 players” when he began playing the instrument in the early 1980s.

“It wasn’t as common to hear recordings of the great jazz organists. There were many who had forgotten what jazz organ was. That was altered by Joey DeFrancesco. They began to take interest in jazz organ because of him.”

Kocour likens him favorably to Jimmy Smith, who bridged the gap between the jazz and soul genres in the ’60s by popularizing the Hammond B-3 organ.

Kocour says, “If Joey were here today, he’d credit Jimmy Smith with keeping that tradition alive.”

I think it’s fair to say that “Joey DeFrancesco more than anybody else continued and extended the amazing innovative work of Jimmy Smith and all the great jazz organists.”

I was deeply moved by his music and his soul.

Together with Smith, DeFrancesco released an album in 2005 titled “Legacy,” which served as the official opening of Tempest Recording, the studio located behind Clarke Rigsby’s Tempe residence.

It was a wonderful relationship that lasted for twenty-five to thirty years, as Rigsby puts it.

Rigsby says that, of all the musicians he’s worked with over the years, DeFrancesco has “the most incredible ear.”

“He could hear something once and sing it back to you,” Rigsby says of him.

“Joey came up to sit with me and listen to Jimmy Smith’s solo while we were recording his album. Joey sang me the entire solo by Jimmy, word for word. I just looked at him and said, “You gotta be kidding me.””

Kocour admires DeFrancesco’s music greatly.

‘I can’t think of anyone I enjoy hearing more than Joey,’ he says. Just so hip, so posh and fun.

The Viscount Legend Live Joey DeFrancesco Signature Organ is one example of the digital instruments that DeFrancesco created to ape the sound of the Hammond B3.

What a fantastic instrument, and it doesn’t even weigh 400 pounds, Kocour exclaims. By contributing to the creation of a workable instrument that professional musicians could use, he “made that jazz organ sound accessible to people.”

“Another one of the greats has passed away.”

Director of U.S. sales and marketing for Viscount Legend, Jay Valle, considered DeFrancesco a close friend and a major talent.

He says, “I’ve known Joey for a long time, ever since he was kind of a skinny kid.”

“And it was easy to foresee him developing into one of the top jazz organists working today. To say that he simply played a large number of notes would be an understatement. He performed from the depths of his being, and the audience felt the power of his music. One of the greats has been lost.”

In his final five years, DeFrancesco devoted himself to his work with Viscount.

Truthfully, “the presence of our product right now is totally due to Joey’s performances that he did with the product,” Valle says. “A member of the family runs the business. Joey is now basically part of the family.”

Over the course of his career, he recorded on over a hundred albums as a sideman for some of the biggest names in jazz, including Miles Davis, Houston Person on sax, and John McLaughlin on guitar.

DeFrancesco played a wide variety of instruments on his most recent album, “More Music,” including the organ, keyboard, piano, trumpet, and, for the first time, tenor saxophone.

In other words, he was very complimentary.

As a player, DeFrancesco was also well-known for the way he encouraged his teammates.

According to Kocour, “if you were a musician and he heard you play, he always was curious about what you were doing, and always cared.”

Someone who was “generous with his praise, his encouragement, and his willingness to share his knowledge.”

Although DeFrancesco spent a lot of time on the road, he was still a regular on the New Orleans jazz scene.

Kocour says of him, “He knew everybody who was playing jazz in Phoenix, and he would always come out to hear them play or sit in.”

“He made an effort to let us know that he was active in the Phoenix jazz scene despite his busy touring schedule. However, he was constantly monitoring the local jazz scene in Phoenix. That made us extremely happy.”

Reporter Ed Masley can be reached at or 602-444-4495. Just search for @EdMasley on Twitter.

The following article was published in the Arizona Republic: He is universally regarded as “the world’s greatest jazz organist.” Joey DeFrancesco, a legend in the jazz world, has passed away at the age of 51.