Joey DeFrancesco dies, aged 51

    The Philadelphia-born organist shot to jazz fame in the late 1980s and is recognised as inspiring the enduring revival of organ jazz

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    Joey DeFrancesco in 2009

    The record label Mack Avenue reports that Hammond organ specialist and trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco died 25 August at the age of 51. Widely credited with inspiring the enduring revival of the Hammond organ, DeFrancesco recorded over 30 albums and also played saxophone and sang.

    DeFrancesco came to notice among the young lions of the 1980s jazz renaissance. Along with many other traditional jazz sounds, organ jazz had virtually disappeared in the 1970s, but DeFrancesco, with a major-label record deal, was prominent in bringing the style back into the jazz mainstream.

    He was born 1971 in Springfield, Pennsylvania. When he was young his father, “Papa” John DeFrancesco, an organist himself, took him to gigs in Philadelphia with players such as Hank Mobley and Philly Joe Jones. He played his first professional gig at age 10 and attended Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts where his classmates included bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.

    DeFrancesco released his Columbia Records debut, All Of Me, aged 17 in 1989. While still in high school, he toured Europe with Miles Davis and appeared on the trumpeter’s 1989 album Amandla, quickly picking up the trumpet as a result of his experience with Davis.

    As well as leading his own groups, DeFrancesco played with numerous prominent artists, including Ray Charles, Van Morrison, Diana Krall, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, James Moody, John Scofield, Bobby Hutcherson, Jimmy Cobb, Pat Martino, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell and David Sanborn. An outstanding example of his group and solo playing came in an appearance in Umbria with Pat Martino and John Scofield.

    On his 2021 album, More Music, DeFrancesco employed his full instrumental arsenal: organ, keyboard, piano, trumpet and, for the first time on record, tenor saxophone. The latter horn was in his blood – his grandfather, Joseph DeFrancesco, had played tenor and clarinet and his horns were still in the family home.

    DeFrancesco was an apostle for the healing nature of music, saying recently: “More music is what’s needed to create positivity and wellness for everybody, regardless of what’s happening in the world. Music just solves a lot of problems. So more live music, more original music – just more music. Without that, we’re in big trouble.”

    DeFrancesco is survived by his wife and manager Gloria, daughter Ashley, son Donny, mother Laurene, father Joey, sister Cheryle, brother John, nieces, nephews and extended family.

    Gloria DeFrancesco posted on Instagram: “Right now I have very few words. Thank you for the outpouring of love and support coming in from everywhere. Joey loved you all.” However, the family have given no cause of death.