Joey DeFrancesco, Greg Hopkins
January 1, 1970Another routine week, with the Friday column and the Thursday Calendar pick all that saw print. The column was about Joey DeFrancesco and his ties to the recently departed king of jazz organ, Jimmy Smith.
As the school year winds down, maybe there will be an increase in the number of published stories throughout the summer. At least that's the hope on this end.
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Organist carries on his idol's 'Legacy'
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | April 1, 2005
Hammond B-3 organ whiz kid Joey DeFrancesco may be leading a trio at Scullers next week, but the spirit of a fourth man — the late, great organist Jimmy Smith — will be up there on stage with him as well.
Smith would have been there in person had he not died unexpectedly on Feb. 8 at age 79, before the release of "Legacy," a disc the two organists recorded together late last summer. Smith and his protege had been planning to tour together in support of the album.
That the CD is called "Legacy" is no accident. DeFrancesco, who turns 34 this month, wrote the free-spirited, sitar-infused title cut to call attention to his idol's ability to range well beyond the funkified "soul jazz" that made Smith famous. Beyond that, the collaboration was an acknowledgment that the young DeFrancesco would be charged with keeping the jazz organ tradition alive.
"He told me that the legacy was in my hands," says DeFrancesco. "I was the guy that had to carry the torch."
It's a role that comes naturally to DeFrancesco, who began sitting in on gigs with his father — Philadelphia-based organist "Papa John" DeFrancesco — when he was still in single digits. By the time he was 10, Joey was working summer Saturday nights with veterans Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley. By 18, he was touring with Miles Davis and putting out the first in a series of his own albums with Sony/ Columbia that helped resuscitate the organ as a jazz instrument after it had been nearly killed off by the synthesizer. DeFrancesco's ability on piano earned him the chance to show what he could do on organ.
"I did the first Thelonious Monk piano competition," DeFrancesco says, "and I was one of the five semifinalists. And George Butler [of Columbia Records] was there at the time MC-ing. He heard me, he said to send a tape. But when I sent him the tape I sent the tape with me playing organ. I think that made all the difference in the world. Because there's a million piano players, but there was nobody playing organ."
DeFrancesco's success helped jump-start the stalled careers of older masters such as Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and Dr. Lonnie Smith, and paved the way for a younger generation of jazz organists to follow — Larry Goldings, Sam Yahel, and John Medeski, among others. The Hammond company even resumed manufacturing the B-3 again in 2002, after a 17-year hiatus.
The resurgence inevitably led people to Smith, the man whom DeFrancesco says Davis used to call "the eighth wonder of the world."
DeFrancesco first met Smith at age 7, when his folks brought him by train from Philly for a Smith performance in New York, at the organist's invitation.
"What happened was, Jimmy had this record called 'It's Necessary,' which was recorded live in Jimmy's club that he had at the time in Hollywood, California. And it had a pack of matches on the [album jacket] picture. It had a phone number on it. I called it, and I asked for Jimmy Smith, and they returned the call, man. This little kid's calling. I guess he got a kick out of that."
That first meeting in New York proved the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
"He was so sweet to me," DeFrancesco recalls. "He let me sit up on the bench with him and watch him and take pictures. After that, we kept in contact."
In the late '90s, DeFrancesco moved to Phoenix and Smith arrived four years later. Soon the two perennial top-ranked organists in Down Beat's annual readers polls were jamming regularly at a local club and plotting a trip to the recording studio. They'd recorded together once before, on DeFrancesco's live date "Incredible," but DeFrancesco had something more ambitious in mind this time.
"He was really a master of modern music," DeFrancesco says. "My big thing was to let the world know that Jimmy wasn't just some gutbucket organ player. His harmony and his facility on the organ were unbelievable, and unmatched."
Beyond the title cut, "Legacy" includes a DeFrancesco-penned tribute to Elvin Jones ("Jones'n for Elvin," on which tenor great James Moody makes a guest appearance), a couple of recent pieces by Smith, a bossa nova (Jobim's "Corcovado"), a calypso (the Sonny Rollins mainstay "St. Thomas"), Smith's vocal workout on the blues hit "I've Got My Mojo Workin'," and a pair of the master's soul classics, "Back at the Chicken Shack" and "Midnight Special."
"They call it soul jazz," says DeFrancesco. " All jazz is soul jazz, though. I mean, that's what jazz is, is soul. It's what music should be."
Around town: Jazz harpists Park Stickney and Rudiger Oppermann play "The Harp Summit Tour" tomorrow night at 8 p.m. at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Lexington. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 978-443-0656.
Joey DeFrancesco will perform at Scullers on Wednesday at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets $20. Call 617-562-4111 or visit www.scullersjazz.com.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Greg Hopkins Quintet Ryles, 212 Hampshire St., Cambridge. 617-876-9330. 8:30 p.m. $10.
It's safe to say that none of the jazz masters comprising the Greg Hopkins Quintet is as well-known as he ought to be. But Hopkins and his colleagues are very prominent figures in the corridors at Berklee, where four of the five of them are longtime faculty. (The fifth, Gary Chaffee, chaired the school's percussion department for four years in the 1970s before moving on and opening his own private teaching studio.) The quintet — Hopkins (inset) on trumpet, Bill Pierce on tenor saxophone, Mick Goodrick on guitar, Jim Stinnett on bass, and Chaffee on drums — has also been around for a couple of decades, and last year released its most recent CD, "Quintology." These guys are veterans of bands led by greats such as Buddy Rich and Art Blakey, but for one reason or another they each scaled back their performing careers in order to teach. Tonight, though, those priorities get reversed. Anyone who shows up at the show convinced of the adage "those who can, do; those who can't, teach" will learn otherwise.
Sun 4-3 SFJAZZ Collective Artistic director Joshua Redman leads an ensemble of fellow all-stars — Bobby Hutcherson, Nicholas Payton, Renee Rosnes, Miguel Zenón, Eric Harland, Matt Penman, and Isaac Smith — through compositions of John Coltrane, as well as band members' originals honoring Trane. Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Ave., Boston. 617-876-7777. 7 p.m. $27.50-$35.