Jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco dies at 51

NPR reports that Joey DeFrancesco, the renowned jazz organist, has died at the age of 51. 

DeFrancesco’s passing was announced this week on social media by his wife, Gloria DeFrancesco.

“The love of my life is now in peace with the angels,” she wrote. “Right now I have very few words. Thank you for the
outpouring of love and support coming in from everywhere. Joey loved you all.”

A cause of death has not been provided. All that is known is that DeFrancesco passed away on Thursday, Aug. 25.

Who was he?

DeFrancesco’s musical career began very early on in his life. From Pennsylvania, DeFrancesco attended the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and it is shortly thereafter that DeFrancesco’s musical career got underway.

At the age of only 16, DeFrancesco signed with Columbia Records, in the process of releasing his first album, All of Me. At 17, DeFrancesco was touring Europe with Miles Davis, one of the top names in jazz. This led to a partnership between the two with DeFrancesco playing keyboard for Davis’s Amandla. By 18, DeFrancesco was touring with his own band.

It was the keyboard, specifically the Hammond B-3 organ, that DeFrancesco particularly became known for playing. To a large extent, he, in fact, helped to bring the instrument back into mainstream jazz music. Jazz music was rooted deeply in DeFrancesco’s family, and, by playing the organ, DeFrancesco was following in the footsteps of his father, “Papa” John DeFrancesco, who also played the jazz organ.

Over the course of his three-decade career, DeFrancesco would produce some 30 albums of his own. His latest album was More Music, and, on it, he actually played tenor saxophone for the first time in a recording. As DeFrancesco once put it, “I’ve always been stretching the boundaries of the instrument since day one.”

Remembrances

Numerous friends and colleagues have been offering tributes to DeFrancesco.

Joel Goldenthal, the  executive director at the Nash in downtown Phoenix, Arizona — where DeFrancesco often performed – said, “there’s just no way to wrap your head around this loss.”

“The loss of a young giant like Joey is just unfathomable,” Goldenthal added.

DeFrancesco is survived by his wife, Gloria DeFrancesco, herself a musician who also served as Joey’s manager.

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