Published: March, 2005, Rasputin Manifesto
Life without Jimmy
Joey DeFrancesco and James Moody pay tribute to Jimmy Smith
(Yoshi's, Oakland, February 16, 2005, 8pm show)

By Michael Fortes

The week before I was set to make my trip over to Yoshi's for a Hammond B-3 extravaganza with Joey DeFrancesco and Jimmy Smith, I got the news that Jimmy died. I had never seen Jimmy Smith perform before, so I was pretty bummed.

As they say, the show must go on, and it did - re-billed as a tribute to Jimmy Smith. With a spotlight placed on Jimmy's organ, a vase of flowers and a glass of red wine placed on top, his presence was felt even before the music started.

When the lights dimmed, the crowd quieted down to a low buzz, not quite a funereal hush. Voices got louder as we waited for the musicians to take the stage. Was that a shadow I saw behind the red curtain, through the crack? There go two more!

Soon enough, Joey and his band took the stage, and Joey prefaced the performance with some words about his mentor. The vacant organ on stage was given to Joey by Jimmy not too long ago. Jimmy had owned it since 1958, and as Joey explained, "it's been around!" He went on to say that over the past two months, he and Jimmy had gotten really tight. "I miss my buddy," Joey said of his late friend.

We miss Jimmy too, but it was clear that Jimmy was still there in our thoughts and most obviously in the influence of the music we heard that evening. Even if we hadn't heard the recording of Jimmy playing unaccompanied at his organ, vocal grunts and all, that Joey started the show with, we still would have been thinking of Jimmy. It seemed though, from that opening gesture, that Joey was still kind of shook up over the loss. But it worked. It got them going, and as they faded the recording down, the guys were ready to jump into some groovin' B-3 jams.

The tune with which they opened the show was the title cut of the new album Joey and Jimmy recorded together last August - "Legacy." From this tune onward, it was obvious that playing is where Joey is finding his solace. When he crammed lots of notes into tiny blocks of time, his facial contortions revealed a man caught up in the moment - and loving it.

His musical support proved quite able and enjoyable on their own terms. Guitarist Jake Langley comfortably spat out fast single line runs and some octave action too. Drummer Byron Landham had a great feel for dynamics, and even managed to play one really nifty solo during "Legacy," sounding more like a colorful drum-scape painting than just a solo.

The trio jumped into an old chestnut, "Love For Sale," with verve and funk to spare. Byron kept the beats fresh, and even threw in a bit of a march on the snare before Joey launched into his solo.

Joey again expressed his grief following this second tune, but he seemed to still be in fine spirits. However, he failed to hold back tears during another playback of a Jimmy Smith recording, this one with Jimmy vocalizing on a tune in which he sings, "I feel like my time ain't long," sounding old and frail but not quite ready to quit.

The heavy mood quickly lightened up, however, with the addition of James Moody to the band. He arrived with a flute and tenor sax in hand, and plenty of humor. Before the next tune, he reminisced about touring with Jimmy, and called attention to the fact that Jimmy recently received the Jazz Masters Fellowship Award from the National Endowment of the Arts.

The quartet started off with the Sonny Stitt tune "Eternal Triangle," which really caught fire towards the end. Moody then started the next tune singing unaccompanied, in quite a comical style but with a totally straight face, about a soldier coming home after 3 years away to a pregnant wife. It turned out to be Moody riffing on "Pennies From Heaven," as the soldier tells his wife of the child she is bearing, "he must be from heaven, 'cause he damn sure ain't from me!" He played around even more at the close of the tune, singing some eeeeeEEEee's and pausing to say, "Harry Belefonte does that, I always wanted to do that," before finishing up the tune to hearty applause.

Moody was non-stop with the jokes, even after "Pennies" was done. He then proclaimed it was an honor to be on stage with Joey and his band because "they all have hair except me." Try this one at your next party - have you ever heard the shortest ever blues? "Didn't wake up this morning." Corny, yes, but it felt good to laugh a bit, you know?

Two more songs and the 8pm set came to a close. First was Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Wave," with Moody on flute. It started off quite fine, very understated, which is exactly how Jobim tunes are best presented. It stayed that way pretty much until Joey's solo, and he got wrapped up in the fun of playing his ass off. They kept it nice and soft at the end though. They concluded their set with a solid performance of "Funny Honeymoon," with Moody back on tenor.

"Don't forget about the man, Jimmy Smith, ladies and gentlemen!" Joey reminded us as he took off for a break and the audience cleared out to make room for the 10pm show. Joey learned well from the master, and as long as he keeps playing as well as he did that night, I've a feeling Jimmy won't be forgotten anytime soon.

Photo by Anthony Music