Sunday, January 31, 2010

Joe DeFrancesco

Joey D.

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

If, according to Jazz lore, Miles Davis upon encountering Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith for the first time declared: “This cat is the Eight Wonder of the World!,” does that make Hammond B-3 organist Joey DeFrancesco, whose technique on the instrument is even more stupendous, by definition, the Ninth & Tenth Wonders of the World?

Jazz as played on the Hammond B-3 organ is not for everyone. Some fans think the sound of the instrument is better suited to accompanying circus and carnival acts or the insipid and saccharine show tunes composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

My take on this debate is that I loved the sound of Jazz on the instrument the first time I heard it being played by Jimmy Smith and I loved it even more after I first encountered Joey D. generate more enthusiasm and excitement on it than one could ever imagine.

Hyperbole notwithstanding, Joey DeFrancesco is a technically skilled musician and a very inventive and creative improviser who has chosen to demonstrate and express what borders on artistic genius through this unusual instrument. 

Or as Jazz critic Art Pryor expressed it:

“What’s most incredible about Joey DeFrancesco is not his speed or technical wizardry with the keyboard (that part is just downright frightening!!!), nor is it his sense of harmonic sophistication, or his understanding and appreciation of the repertoire; it’s how he utilizes all these talents to create immaculate lines of improvisation – never repeating himself or falling prey to cute devices as a substitute for imagination. Best of all this cat will swing you out of house and home!”

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles is in the process of developing an extensive feature on Joey DeFrancesco, but, in the meantime, here are the producer’s note and  a portion of the whimsically entertaining insert notes to one of its favorite Joey D. albums – Goodfellas [Concord Jazz CCD-4845-2] featuring Frank Vignola [g] and Joe Ascione [d].

Below these we have posted four YouTube’s featuring music from the CD so the readers of JazzProfiles can experience the artistry of Joey along with Frank Vignola on guitar and Joe Ascione on drums in an audio visual format.

“It’s interesting to note that this recording captures the very first time this group played together. While Frank Vignola and Joe Ascione have played together throughout most of their musical lives, neither of them had ever played with Joey DeFrancesco before this date. Therefore it is particularly interesting that most of the songs on the record are first takes, without any rehearsal whatsoever.

I think the reasons for this record’s musical success are threefold: First of all, these guys can play! Each of them has a deep understanding of the jazz tradition coupled with an incredible facility on their respective instrument. Second, is that they were each raised in an Italian-American family, and therefore share a common heritage and perspective with respect to Italian-American music and culture. And third, they’re all big fans of the great ‘mafia’ motion pictures made by Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Marlon Brando, and many other talented actors, writers, and directors.

It is generally due to the later two reasons that this record was made amongst two days of continuous laughter and humor. It was this type of interplay that prompted the ‘Whack ‘em’ reprise, which gives you a glimpse of the spirit of the entire session. You can hear that spirit, coupled with a real respect for the music and the heritage, in every song on this album.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.” – John Burt

“Sam Butera said it good: ‘The whole world loves Italians’ … ‘a capito? One big reason is the music, ya understand what I’m saying here? …

Maronna mia … the songs my mother used to sing in the kitchen while she was making sauce or the ones we’d hear Dean Martin or Connie Francis sing on the radio … forget about it!

So now, me and the boys are looking for something like that today and we come across these three guys: Joey DeFrancesco, Frank Vignola and Joe Ascione. I’m tellin’ ya, these guys picked up where the other fellas left off.  Are you listening to me? … but these guys are playin’ jazz like I never heard before. It’s unbelievable!

Joey’s outta Philly where all dem real good organ players come from. He’s been playing organ since he was four or five … unbelievable! He reminds me of that fella Louie used to have on organ: Richie Varola … ‘cept Joey’s playing stuff I ain’t never heard before! This guy’s got big ears, ya know what I mean?... Like he can play anything he wants. I hear that he used to play with big cats like Miles Davis and dem guys but I like it when he justs sits down at the organ and grooves like his old man, Papa John, taught him.

The guitar player, Frank, came outta Long Island. He used to listen to Joe Pass a lot, another pisano. Frank’s father taught him to play the banjo, right? ‘Cause that’s what he played … so then Frank’s winnin’ all these contests for playing the banjo … mingcha, this guy’s unbelievable! Now he’s plaing guitar all over the world. He’s got this smooth sound, but like olive oil in a saucepan, he can sizzle when he wants to, ya know what I mean? … like when the garlic hits that hot oil.

Then this drummer! … Maronna! … Joe Ascione (I think he’s Neopolitan) … Man, he’s in the pocket all night long, see … keeping those other guys on their toes, ya know what I mean? He used to listen to Buddy Rich a lot. I’m tellin’ ya, this Joe Ascione’s hotter than sausage and peppers right off the grill. I love it when he moves the beat around … makin’ the music jump out at’cha. So anyway, I told the Boss he’s gotta hear these guys. Maybe they can come out to our men’s club and play, ya know what I mean? Then I’m gonna axe ‘em to play for my daughter’s wedding, see … or maybe this funeral we got comin’ up for this guy in a little while. Don’t worry … they’ll play. …
I’m tellin’ ya, these Goodfellas are all right by me … and I ain’t trying to be no wise-guy, see. Just listen for yourself.”