Lewis Nash remembers jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco
Jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco died Aug. 26. The Phoenix resident was 51 years old.
DeFrancesco was born into Philadelphia jazz royalty — his grandfather, a saxophonist, and his father a nationally recognized keyboardist.
Joey started playing the organ at 4, and at 5, he was sitting in on gigs with his father. At 16, he signed his first recording contract. He spoke about that experience with KJZZ’s Blaise Lantana in February of this year:
“I was in the first Thelonious Monk piano competition and I was 15, almost 16. It was one of those things where a million people send a tape in and there’s like [a] semi-finalist and then there’s five finalists, and I was one of the finalists," DeFrancesco said. "They were all much older than me — Marcus Roberts won that year who had Monk down — but what was cool about that was Dr. George Butler was there — the V.P. of Columbia Records. He’s who signed Wynton [Marsalis], he’s the one who brought Miles [Davis] out of retirement.”
DeFrancesco enjoyed a prolific career, specializing in the Hammond B-3 organ, touring and recording with the very top names in music — Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith and Van Morrison, among many others.
In 1998, he made Phoenix his home and became a driving force in promoting music and education in the region.
Lewis Nash is the legendary drummer for whom the Nash jazz club in Phoenix is named. He was a friend, and in recent years, a frequent performer with DeFrancesco.
The Show spoke with him about DeFrancesco and his role in Arizona’s jazz community.