Room to Groove

"Groove" and "swing" must be two of the most overused music terms ever. As undefinable as "cool," "hot" or "bitchen," whatever meanings they do have have been watered down with an umpteen number of wide applications.

For the record, "groove" applies to any continuous bass and/or rhythm riff, whether pumped out by organist Jimmy Smith on the foot pedals of his Hammond B-3 or imparted in the repetitions of some dub-meister whose electronic sample—often stolen from a dead jazz musician—repeats ad nauseam in the latest techno-pop dance hit.

"Swing" is the essential jazz beat, the kind of syncopation that High Priest Wynton Marsalis uses to distinguish good music from bad. Yet the term is most commonly attached to white-bread dance tunes of the '40s, something that has little to do with the back-and-forth, sexually charged rhythms so often carried in the best jazz. Duke Ellington's definition still holds: "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got . . ." Well, you know.

You hear a bounty of both qualities when you listen to B-3 genius Joey DeFrancesco. Though only 29, DeFrancesco understands old-school grooves, the kind that blared out of his native Philadelphia and other tavern towns in the organ trios of Smith, Shirley Scott, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff and Groove Holmes. But he has also made advancements on his own—DeFrancesco knows how to burn (groove + swing = burn).

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"You can see what groove does to people," says DeFrancesco, when asked to explain himself. "Their feet start tapping; they start to move. No matter what kind of music it is, it's gotta be groovin'."

For a young guy, DeFrancesco's got a storied past. When he was just 17, he was asked to supply break music for a local Philly talk show, on which Miles Davis was a guest. A Davis fan from his early teens, DeFrancesco took the opportunity to groove with him on "Four," "Tune-Up" and other Davis standards. The trumpeter was so impressed he called DeFrancesco a few days later and enlisted him for a European tour. DeFrancesco has since gone on to record a number of albums of his own, including his new one, Incredible!, a duo date with his old idol Smith, cut live at San Francisco's Bimbo's 365 club.

As is true with nearly all jazz artists, live is where DeFrancesco burns best. He combusted beautifully earlier this year at Steamers with drummer Jeff Hamilton (those looking for a definition of "swing" will find it in Hamilton's playing). This weekend's string of dates with Hamilton and seven-string guitar whiz Ron Escheté came about when DeFrancesco happened into the Fullerton room one night during Hamilton's gig with keyboardist Bill Cunliffe. DeFrancesco sat in on the set, and they immediately decided to play future dates together.

While you may recognize the tunes DeFrancesco, Escheté and Hamilton will explore, you've probably never heard them played quite this ambitiously on a B-3 organ. "I play out of the traditional style," Joey says, "but I do it with different tempos, a different sound. When I think of innovation, I'm thinking of early Jimmy Smith. That was the most innovative period —he was playing like John Coltrane did 10 years later. That's the groove I want."


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