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Town Hall show honors jazz legacy

In that vain, the highly regarded, much anticipated and always well-attended "Jazz Live! Series," having become established as a uniquely Flushing phenomenon for more then 10 of those years, was set in motion once again Friday night by its producer, Clyde Bullard. In essence it also helped mark the new start of the next quarter century of promising cultural programs that will to be brought to the community by the talented and dedicated staff at this world class venue.That opening show, featuring the "Organ-ic Jazz" of the masterfully talented and highly regarded Hammond B3 organist Joey DeFrancesco, was the first in the series of three slated to occur in March and April. DeFrancesco, hailing originally from Philadelphia and born in 1971, is a young phenom with a true musical pedigree. His grandfather was a multi-talented instrumentalist, while his dad, "Papa John," was a jazz organist of some note who spent time in the company of the famous Dorsey brothers. Starting to play at the young age of 4 and turning more serious in his formative years to become a guest artist at only 10 years old, DeFrancesco progressed naturally, winning awards as a young musical prodigy. Since debuting as leader on the B3 organ in the late '80s, he has established himself as an authentically gifted talent and a principle purveyor of the instrument as a creative jazz source. DeFrancesco, an artist with some noteworthy albums to his credit, has been compared favorably to other B3 players such as Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Big John Patton. However, in a brief interview with him between sets Friday, he indicated that he takes special pride in the close working association and friendship he had established with the recently deceased legendary Hammond B3 innovator Jimmy Smith. "I knew Jimmy for over 20 years and we were really close," DeFrancesco said. "I was getting to know him better on a personal level while working closely with him this past year and I did things for him such as even cooking his meals." "Jimmy was a big part of my life since I was born, and that of my dad," he continued. "I grew to really respect him musically and learned a great deal from him. I really loved him. My dad plays, and Jimmy was his idol, also. He was always like a part of the family." Joey DeFrancesco was scheduled to tour with Smith this year, but the elder statesman of the B3 died just a few weeks ago.In a very humble fashion DeFrancesco reiterated a sentiment that he shared with the fans at the beginning of the first set, which was that he felt it was his job to carry the (Smith's legacy), to take the responsibility personally and as he said, "I'm going to do my best to do it right and make everyone proud,"He emphasized that Smith had left us a great body of work and that it was his duty to carry the legacy on. Earlier in the evening, DeFrancesco graciously thanked the crowd for coming out. He was accompanied by the renowned electric guitarist Paul Bollenbeck and the equally talented drummer Byron Landham on two very swinging sets peppered with hot solos and beautifully balanced instrumental features. Both sets were accentuated with ballads from earlier albums and from a more recent album which he had completed with his late mentor, Smith. As a jazz photojournalist and reporter trying feverishly to keep my eyes and ears focused on the pulse of the Queens jazz scene these 10 past years, I'd say that Joey DeFrancesco and his cats were not only technically proficient and compositionally refreshing as ensemble artists, but also inventive, and swingingly entertaining while doing more than an honorable job of carrying the torch for Smith and the other late great jazz artists who we've lost in recent months. They delivered with exquisite sensitivity and finesse tunes played by many jazz artists and loved by fans alike, such as the Billy Strayhorn's signature classic, "Lush Life," and Cole Porter's piece, "Concentrating On You." DeFrancesco's rendition of the ballad called, "I Close My Eyes," certainly opened a lot of eyes to the special nuances of the B3 organ. The ensemble worked their magic throughout the night and in one instance they had the audience also singing in syncopation to a rousing energy filled number called, "Got To Get Your Mojo Workin'." What more can anyone say, but that it was a great night for jazz! The mojo was definitely workin'! DeFrancesco's Hammond B3 organ wizardry can be experienced again, however at a much higher ticket price in the Iridium Jazz Club of Manhattan. There he will be paying a special tribute to his past friend and mentor Jimmy Smith, from March 23 through March 27. For jazz music that's of comparable caliber, and at a much more convenient location, fans should check out Flushing Town Hall for the Nat Jones Trio as they pay tribute to the late, great velvety voice of Nat King Cole on March 18, and a later tribute by Arthur Baron and The Duke's Men as they pay homage to the great band leader Duke Ellington on April 1. Call the box office at 718-463-7700.

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