Joey DeFrancesco—the renowned jazz organist, composer, and bandleader—has died, The New York Times reports. DeFrancesco’s own Mack Avenue Music Group announced the news on their website, however no cause of death was stated. He was 51 years old.
The prodigious musician played trumpet, piano, saxophone, and synthesizer, but was best known for reviving the use of the Hammond B3 organ in the modern jazz scene. Emerging as an unparalleled talent in the 1980s, DeFrancesco would go on to release over 30 recordings as a bandleader, and log studio time with a number of high-profile artists like Ray Charles, Van Morrison, Bette Midler, and more.
DeFrancesco was born in 1971, in a town outside of Philadelphia. His father is the acclaimed organist “Papa” John DeFrancesco, who brought Joey a B3 organ when he was just four years old. By the time he was a teenager, Joey DeFrancesco was performing in the Settlement Jazz Ensemble at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, dazzling audiences with his masterful playing. At 17, he was selected to tour with Miles Davis.
DeFrancesco issued his first studio album, All of Me, in 1989. Five of his LPs received Grammy nominations, most recently his 2019 full-length, In the Key of the Universe. In 2018, DeFrancesco joined forces with Van Morrison for a collection of originals and standards called You’re Driving Me Crazy. His final album, More Music, arrived last year. DeFrancesco played six different instruments across its 10 original songs.
In an interview with All About Jazz in 2019, journalist Victor L. Schermer asked DeFrancesco about the title of In the Key of the Universe, observing that it had a spiritual air about it. “This is about the direction I’ve been going in for the last few years,” DeFrancesco responded. “First of all, music is a spiritual experience to begin with. And as you grow and go on in life, spirituality is going to affect whatever you do. So there’s an uncontrollable urge to express it in your music, so other people can get in touch with that feeling too when they listen.”
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