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Jazz organist returning as part of Hilton series

Jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco had laryngitis Thursday, but, notwithstanding his croaky voice while talking to an interviewer by telephone, it didn't even occur to him to turn down the driving jazz music playing in the background.

Over the receiver the music could be heard better than DeFrancesco. It was straight-ahead jazz - energetic, finger-snapping music much like DeFrancesco's own.The 27-year-old musician has played fusion with John McLaughlin and plied esoteric corners of jazz with Miles Davis, but, left to his own devices, he generally stays with a more traditional repertoire.

"That's just what I like," he said. "That's where my heart is. That's what I grew up on - that and blues."

DeFrancesco returns to Salt Lake City Tuesday as part of the Jazz at the Hilton series. Previous local appearances include Snowbird's Jazz and Blues Festival in August 1996 and the Jazz at the Hilton series the year before.

"I really like it there (in Utah)," he said, speaking from his home in Wilmington, Del. "The people really love music. I can't wait to get out there."

Even jazz devotees may be forgiven if they are not overly familiar with the organ. Jazz organ had been relatively moribund since the 1960s, until a resurgence began during the past decade, largely due to DeFrancesco himself.

Yes, he said, the instrument is different - and vive la difference.

DeFrancesco began playing when he was 4. He cut his first album, "All of Me," in 1989 when he was 17 and has gone nonstop ever since. His most recent album, "All in the Family," done with his organist father, came out a month ago.

When he was only 5, DeFrancesco memorized jazz organ legend Jimmy Smith's tour de force "The Sermon."

"My dad came home from work one day when I was playing it," he told one interviewer. "I thought he was gonna pass out."

While DeFrancesco cites various artists as inspirations - Davis, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock ("There are so many") - Smith has an honored site in his pantheon of jazz heroes.

"Jimmy Smith was a huge influence," he said. "I just took his style and went from there."

Though he has largely confined himself to combos, someday "I'd like to do a big band record with Ray Charles-type arrangements," DeFrancesco said.

Unlike some jazz organists who disdain the foot pedals, DeFrancesco plays both keyboard and pedals with vigor. He plays primarily the jazz organist's instrument of choice - a Hammond B-3 - but also likes the Roland BK-7, which has a lighter sound.

DeFrancesco has played a lot of music in a trio format, but recently went back to a more traditional (for jazz organ) quartet. For his Jazz at the Hilton date DeFrancesco will bring along his long-time sidemen, guitarist Paul Bollenback and drummer Byron Landham, as well as a more recent addition, saxophonist Marshall Ivery.

"I missed the sound (of the saxophone)," he said. "It's a nice sound."

Jazz is a spontaneous, present form of music, he says. To prepare for his last Jazz at the Hilton gig, DeFrancesco rehearsed a couple of hours with two local sidemen and spent less than 30 minutes putting together the playlist.

Not surprisingly, he's coy as to what's planned for Tuesday.

"It's a surprise," he said.

Tickets are $20, available at the Holladay Pharmacy, 4690 Holladay Blvd., or call 278-0411.