Joey DeFrancesco Day

April 10, 1971 – August 25, 2022

A tribute to the brilliant jazz organist

Organist Joey DeFrancesco passed away on Aug. 25, 2022 of a heart attack at the age of 51.

He was born April 10, 1971 in Springfield, Pennsylvania; his father “Papa” John DeFrancesco was also an organist.

DeFrancesco began playing organ when he was four and within a year was performing songs in Jimmy Smith’s style.

Considered a child prodigy, at five he was sitting in with his father’s band and at ten was in a group in Philadelphia that included Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones.

He attended and studied music at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and was a finalist in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition.

DeFrancesco’s talent was obvious by then; in 1987 at 16 he made his recording debut (on electric piano) with Grover Washington Jr. and, for a few months in 1988, he was a member of Miles Davis’ band.

Also in 1988, DeFranesco recorded his first of over 35 albums as a leader, All Of Me, often sounding very close to Jimmy Smith who he had befriended.

From that point on, DeFrancesco led his own trios and quartets, toured the world, and was considered one of the top organists in jazz.

He developed his own swinging style and sound, playing standards, grooving blues, ballads and occasional originals; he also doubled on trumpet (where Miles Davis was his main influence), took an occasional vocal, and in his last few years also proved to be an excellent tenor-saxophonist.

Joey DeFrancesco’s emergence on the scene in the late 1980s was a major factor in the comeback of the Hammond B-3 organ, which had been overshadowed by other electric keyboards; he was an inspiration to virtually all other organists who followed, always playing with high energy and enthusiasm.

In addition to heading his own group, DeFrancesco occasionally played with all-star bands (including John McLaughlin’s Free Spirits), and guested with other groups including recording the Christian McBride big band album For Jimmy, Wes And Oliver in 2020.

With the lifting of the COVID pandemic, Joey DeFrancesco was back to having a hectic touring schedule when he died unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of 51, shocking the jazz and music worlds.

Here is Joey DeFrancesco and his trio with guitarist Dan Wilson and drummer Jason Brown performing “One Hundred Ways.”

-Scott Yanow