Review: Papa John DeFrancesco Quartet at the Musicians Hall in Phoenix

By Patricia Myers

 Hammond B3 organ maestro Papa John DeFranceso led a swinging night of hip riffs and infectious blues moves at another first-Tuesday concert series at the Musicians Hall on June 2nd.

His quartet sailed through charts that included several from his eight albums issued between 1994 and 2001, this night featuring trumpeter Jim Henry, tenor saxophonist Jerry Donato, guitarist Mike Ozuna and drummer Joe Costello.

DeFrancesco’s original, “Latin Groove” offered Ozuna good space to get funky, with Costello cutting loose toward the end. Stanley Turrentine’s “Minor Chant” was perfect for the organist’s irrepressible style and spirit, Henry adding a terrific solo. A roaring rendition of “Back at the Chicken Shack” featured a Donato solo that included a well-timed “Night Train” quote. During an exploration of “Bye Bye Blues,” Henry added inventive flugelhorn moves within DeFrancesco’s strong tempo support.

In the second set, DeFrancesco moved from his bench to invite fellow organist Bill Callahan of Las Vegas, who dispensed accelerated energy in a free-ranging blues that Henry enhanced on flugelhorn. The next guest was Sam Folio (secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Musicians) who sang a spirited rendition of Bobby Blue Bland’s “Sunday Morning Lovin’” that was abetted by the growling groove of Donato’s tenor.

The concert closed with “Watermelon Man,” its 16-bar blues configuration the perfect fit for this collective, causing the capacity crowd to applaud long for an encore. That was Booker Ervin’s familiar “Mojo” that featured a witty scat-duel by DeFrancesco and Henry.

At 74, Papa John DeFranceso continues to be a remarkable musician whose amiable persona and 40-plus years of performing in Philadelphia and Arizona continue to endear him to listeners.

The first-Tuesday concerts are presented monthly by the Phoenix Musicians Union Local 586 AFM and Young Sounds of Arizona. The next one will be at 7:30 p.m. July 14, a blues band led by drummer Tom Coulson (“Hacksaw Williams”); on Aug. 11, Sal and the Strayhorns; on Sept. 8, a mariachi band; on Oct. 13, Howard Van Orden-accordion; and on Nov. 10, Jim Cooper-vibes + Armand Boatman-piano, Jack Radavich-acoustic bass, drummer-TBD. All the concerts are free and open to the public in the hall, 1202 E. Oak St., Phoenix 85006, 602-254-8838,

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