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Interview:
Still-busy jazz career feels "like 25 minutes" to Joey DeFrancesco
 

By GARY GRAFF
21st Century Media/Digital First Media, @GraffonMu

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Joey DeFranceso voices genuine surprise when it's pointed out that this year marks 25 years since the release of his first solo album, "All of Me."

"Oh my God! Really?!" the 42-year-old jazz keyboardist exclaims. "It feels like 25 minutes. It's really does. The other night I was hanging out with some guys over at (New York's) Lincoln Center, some of my buddies and stuff, and someone said, 'Yeah, that was in '94,' and '94 feels like last year.

"It's just amazing to think that that much time has passed."

DeFrancesco, of course, has been far too busy to necessarily notice the passage of that time.

A child prodigy from Philadelphia who started hanging out in the jazz clubs his father was playing when he was seven years old, DeFrancesco had already logged time with Miles Davis (when DeFrancesco was just 17) and Grover WAshington, Jr. before "All of Me" came out, and after that he went on to work with John McLaughlin's Free Spirit, Jimmy Smith, Pat Dimartino, Big Jim Henry and more.

"It's been non-stop, and I've been very fortunate," notes DeFrancesco, who credits his "very strong Italian family background" with "keeping me humble" through the successes. "I was playing with cats when I was eight, nine, 10 years old in Philly. When I started playing when I was, like, four, I knew right away this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I just wanted to play with everybody.

"I never thought about leading a band when I was a kid; that just happened naturally. But I learned so much from the masters about leading your own group and things like that, I was ready for it when it happened."

DeFrancesco's prolific career takes a collaborative turn later this year with the release laster this year of a quartet project with the legendary vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, saxophonist David Sanborn and drummer Billy Hart, a dream team assembled for Blue Note Records' 75th anniversary celebration by Detroit-born label president and producer Don Was. DeFrancesco -- who wrote two original pieces for the set -- describes the music as "straight-up jazz, with that (Blue Note) tradition and all our influences over the years," and he says the sessions, held last June in Los Angeles, were among the most memorable of his career.

"We'd all go to the studio together; here's Don Was, the president of the label, picking us up at he hotel and taking us to the studio, which was pretty wild in itself," DeFrancesco recalls. "And then to all be in there, playing together, it was such a treat. It felt like (recording) always should be, y'know?"

The quartet has a show booked for February in San Francisco and is talking about doing more this year, and DeFrancesco says he feels so strongly about the project that he's leaving some room in his schedule to "ride that one out" before he eyeballs his own next project. "Yeah, I do so much touring, it's not like I'm ever scarce," he notes with laugh.

Joey DeFrancesco performs Friday and Saturday, Jan. 17-18, at the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe, 97 Kercheval, Grosse Pointe. Seats are at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Cover is $30 and reservations are required. Call 313-882-5299 or visit www.dirtydogjazz.com.

Web Site: www.dirtydogjazz.com

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