Jazzy Jeff: A touch of Jazzy class
Producer, DJ, hip hop pioneer, scratch connoisseur, inventor, artist extraordinaire. These are just some of the words that spring to mind when trying to describe Jeffrey Townes, aka DJ Jazzy Jeff, without a doubt one of the most multi talented musical personalities ever to grace the planet earth. For those not familiar with this legendary human, known as “The Magnificent”, a brief history is in order. Jazzy Jeff was born on January 22, 1965, in his native Philadelphia, the “city of brotherly love”. It was in the west of this city, that he and his future partner in crime, Will Smith aka the Fresh Prince, were “born and raised”, though it seems behind the decks is where Jeff spent most of his days. He met Will at a house party in 1985, in which Will stepped on to the mic to compensate for the absence of Jeff’s regular MC. The rest, you could say, is history. The duo, “DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince” went on to make five LPs together, selling around 14 million copies worldwide, which included a string of hit singles, 2 Grammies and 3 American Music Awards. An impressive portfolio to say the least. It was on the record “The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff”, off their debut LP “Rock the House”, that Jeff also brought the transformer style of scratching to the world, and is also credited for inventing his own innovative “chirp scratch”.
All good things come to an end though. Will was to pursue a lucrative career in acting, and Jeff went on to concentrate on his production facility “A Touch Of Jazz”, which he created in 1990. It seems that around this time is when Jeff took a bit of a public hiatus, staying in the lab and focusing on the development of ATOJ. This culminated in the release of the LP “Who is Jill Scott” in 2000, the fruits of the labour exerted by Jill Scott herself, the talented poet/writer/neo soul songstress, and Jeff, as the entire LP was produced in ATOJ, was the executive producer. This seemingly humble LP went on to go double platinum in sales, attracting wide recognition to both Jeff and Jill. A plethora of artists have since collaborated with Jeff, soliciting his help to add that extra “touch of jazz” to their records, including the likes of Floetry and Musiq.
Jeff was finally able to release his first solo LP, “The Magnificent”, in 2002. This album featured a variety of artists, ranging from those who are a familiar name in the industry, such as J Live, Jill Scott and the Last Emperor, and those whom which Jeff himself had helped developed in ATOJ, such as Chef Word and V. The album is a tribute to Jeff’s diversity as an artist and skills as a DJ. The scratching in tracks like “Break it Down” showed that the man had never really lost his touch behind the decks, scratching the record to bits, while the sheer range in artists and the diversity of genres that the album crossed, incorporating elements of soul, jazz and hip hop, is noteworthy to say the least. This writer finds the need to compare it to DJ Spinna’s “Here to There”, as both are a representation of the eclectic tastes and motley array of skills these two individuals possess.
A couple of years later Jeff released “Hip Hop Forever 2”, his first official mix CD, and not a moment too soon. The CD portrayed Jeff’s in depth knowledge of the hip hop art form, as well as allowing him to fully showcase his mixing talent. The selection included the likes of Gangstarr, Raekwon, Jeru the Damaga, and Smif’n’Wessun, just to name a few. Many a head rank it up there as one of the best hip hop mix CDs of their lifetime, once again attesting to the pioneer status of Jeff in the world and culture of hip hop. More recently, Jeff showed audiences (who had not already been notified or had refuse to recognise) that he was more than capable of crossing boundaries and borders in the genres of music, resulting in ‘Soulheaven presents Jazzy Jeff… In The House’, a 2 CD mix installment for the renowned and highly reputed Defected label. Speaking on this “deviation” from hip hop, Jeff notes, “I came up in a time when DJs played everything so it felt good to do the Defected album. That’s what I love to play.” A fair call for somebody who regards “the Sound Of Phila definitely, but any old soul n funk” as his primary musical influences while growing up.
In an era where hip hop has been glorified by the mass media as somewhat of a commodity franchise, Jeff echo’s the concern of many a talented artist and musician concerning commercial radio’s lack of depth. “That’s what I hate. Not the fact that it’s out to the mass media, just that they’re the ones who dictate what we hear. We’re brainwashed because out of all of the great hip hop that’s out, they only play 10 songs. My problem is what they don’t play”. Though diplomacy also seems to be a characteristic of the mild mannered Mr Townes. “nowadays some artists want the money so they will do whatever it takes, which is cool if that’s what you want”. Another fair statement, though when these same artists are taking up your air time on radio, sentiments may tend to change. Regardless, he backs it up with a comment very much reflecting his own attitude towards the creation of music. “If the musical integrity is what’s important then you can’t worry about the commercial side of things and just follow your heart. That is how music was made 20 years ago”.
The world of hip hop is also one that has been subject to countless untimely exits of ultra talented individuals from the gift of life. Asked about J Dilla (r.i.p), the multi talented hip hop producer who was responsible for many familiar tunes and the collective Slum Village, Jeff responds, “he was a very close friend of mine. I did scratches on Fantastic Vol 2 and he did Are You Ready on The Magnificent EP. He was the John Coltrane of hip hop. He was a genius that the world will miss”. Indeed we shall, and let’s hope occurrences like these are few and far between. Meanwhile, being the fans that we are, an update is necessary on things to come and the current state of ATOJ. “I took a little break from ATOJ developing artists [aspect] because that takes a lot of time. I have a poet Black Ice whose album will be coming out on Koch Records in September, but I will be in the studio doing a ton of new ATOJ projects real soon. [Apart from] touring the world in which I love, I’ve been in the studio working on my second studio record “The Return of The Magnificent”, due out in January”. Niiice!
As some would know, Jeff is in town for the first ever Australian Urban Music Awards, an indication of things to come for a community that is really starting to grow out of its shoes. He’s been here before, and judging by his wraps for down under, we can only hope he will be here again and again. “I love it here. There are a ton of incredible DJs, MCs, and artists of all kinds. The crowd seems a lot more receptive to all kinds of music, and the awards are just a validation of how much the scene has and is growing”. Some would go further to say that the likes of himself and Kurtis Blow being present for such an event provides even further validation. Good to see a globe trotter like himself who spends roughly “75% of the time on the road” getting into the festivities. Is he looking foward to it? “Yes I am. I love getting new music from around the world, so now I have a front row seat. It’s an honor”. The honor’s all ours Jeffrey.