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Papa John DeFrancesco

On September 12th, 1940, John DeFrancesco was born in Niagara Falls, New York, the son of a remarkable Sicilian-born musician, Joe DeFrancesco, who was a member of the Dorsey Brothers swing band and had the uncanny ability to quickly learn and play nearly any musical instrument.

Exposed to music at an early age by his father, John DeFrancesco began playing bugle and trumpet at age 6. After forming a band with several school mates, DeFrancesco played his first professional gig at just 13, at a local nightclub in Niagara Falls.

In 1959, at age 19, DeFrancesco encountered jazz organ legend Jimmy Smith and the course of John’s life was seemingly forever altered. He had become enamored with the organ. Three years after hearing Jimmy Smith perform, DeFrancesco acquired his first Hammond organ, a spinet, and immersed himself in learning to play it. He quickly graduated to the Hammond B-3 and began to play it professionally.

Gigging in the Buffalo, New York area, DeFrancesco began making a name for himself. It wasn’t long before he made the acquaintance of several prominent jazz artists, notably jazz organist Jack McDuff, singer/band leader Cab Calloway, and another newcomer to the Hammond B-3, Dr. Lonnie Smith. DeFrancesco would later move to Philadelphia and become a key player in the Philly jazz scene.

Meanwhile, the birth of his children brought not only the addition of the word “Papa” to his name, but also resulted in changes in DeFrancesco’s intended career path. Choosing instead to stay home with his growing family, DeFrancesco made a conscious decision to stop touring. Perhaps as a result of that decision, he now finds himself the Patriarch of a remarkable and burgeoning musical clan. He and his progeny have helped add a new chapter to the history of jazz. And, noone should be surprised if his grandchildren eventually add to that legacy. They are all involved in music at some level.

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