Joey DeFrancesco, outstanding jazz organist and multi-instrumentalist, dies at 51

Joey DeFrancesco, the exceptionally talented multi-instrumentalist who was known for his remarkable skills and approach to the Hammond B3 organ, has died. He was 51.

DeFrancesco’s wife, Gloria, confirmed the news on Facebook: “The love of my life is now in peace with the angels. Right now I have very few words. Thank you for the outpouring of love and support coming in from everywhere. Joey loved you all.”

DeFrancesco’s music embraced the jazz tradition while treating it with a respectfully modern approach. Performing not only as an organist but also as a trumpeter, saxophonist and singer, he had a fiery, swinging Philadelphia sound that was unmistakably his own.

DeFrancesco released more than 30 albums as a leader and also recorded extensively as a sideman with jazz icons including Miles Davis, Houston Person and John McLaughlin.

Born in Spingfield, Penn., in 1971 and raised in a musical family in Philadelphia, DeFrancesco signed his first recording contract with Columbia Records when he was just 16 years old. He released his first album All of Me in 1989, reigniting the flames of organ jazz that had started to die out between the mid-’70s and mid-’80s. That same year, he joined Miles Davis on a European tour and then played keyboard on his album Amandla, which inspired DeFrancesco to take up the trumpet as well.

Throughout a career of more than 30 years, DeFrancesco has recorded and toured with his own groups as well as numerous renowned artists that include Ray Charles, Van Morrison, Diana Krall, Nancy Wilson, George Benson, James Moody, John Scofield, Bobby Hutcherson, Jimmy Cobb, Larry Coryell, David Sanborn and many more.

He was nominated for four Grammy Awards and countless JJA Jazz Awards, among other accolades. He was inducted into the inaugural Hammond Organ Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame in 2016. He topped the DownBeat Critics Poll 11 times in the past 15 years, and he topped the magazine’s readers’ poll every year since 2005.

DeFrancesco’s latest album More Music found him bringing out his full musical arsenal in impressive new ways, playing the organ, keyboard, piano, trumpet, and, for the first time on record, tenor saxophone.

Mark McLean, Joey DeFrancesco and Robi Botos at JAZZ LIVES in 2011
Credit: David Basskin
Joey DeFrancesco performing at JAZZ LIVES in 2011
Joey DeFrancesco performing with the JAZZ.FM91 Youth Big Band in 2013
Credit: Janet Jardine