“Jazzy Jeff” Townes; born in West Philadelphia in a musical household where he developed a musical passion. At the tender age of 10 years old, he started spinning records at parties, using his family’s basement as a training ground for what became expert mixing. By the time Jeff had made it to John Bartram High, his skills as a DJ had progressed to a level that he showcased in shows on the block party/ballroom circuit in West Philadelphia. He rapidly built a reputation that had him spinning all over his hometown.
Never a showman, Jeff let his hands do the talking. With not only an impeccable ear for good music but also his mastery of scratching techniques, the party was always moving. Technically sound and seldom scratching out – his unique and precise percussive elements saw him form a distinguished following.
Jeff met Will Smith in 1985 on one of the many music scenes he frequented – the house party circuit. His regular MC was away so Will stepped up to the mark, revealing instant chemistry between the two.
In summer 1986 Will and Jeff teamed up to released their first single, “Girl’s Ain’t Nothing But Trouble” as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. This was the first hip-hop song to sample a TV show theme, “I Dream of Jeannie” and it soon began to chart. Jazzy Jeff entered in the 1986 DMC New Music Seminar at the same time and despite not being known as a battle DJ – his routines were so impressive he walked away with the Championship.
Having made their mark on the music seminar within the year, Jive/Zomba bought out the initial word up record contract that Will and Jeff had signed. Now on a major label, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s debut album ‘Rock The House’ released in 1987. The album contained one of the first hip-hop records dedicated to the DJ, “The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff”. Jeff displayed all his skills with this one, simultaneously popularising the “transformer scratch” as the first DJ to use it in a track. Jazzy Jeff’s own invention the “chirp scratch”: – aptly named as it makes the record sound bird-like – was revealed at the same time. The album contained “A Touch of Jazz” – one of the first Jazz/Rap Records: the duo’s sound caught on and Rock the House went Gold.
In 1988 “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper” followed ‘Rock the House’. The record was one of the first hip hop double LPs. Side one focused on Fresh Prince’s storytelling while the second showcased Jazzy Jeff’s DJ’ing prowess. ‘Parent’s Just Don’t Don’t Understand’ – the second single on the album – became a huge hit, creating hip-hop crossover and gaining regular play on MTV. The success of the single propelled “He’s the DJ” to become one of the greatest selling rap albums of the time. It quickly went double platinum. Jeff’s scratches were heard worldwide as the record was the first to pay serious homage to the DJ, inspiring young listeners to turn to the turntables and emulate Jeff’s skills.
To this day, Many DJs cite those early DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince albums as their original inspiration. During the success of the duo’s second album they launched the world’s first pop star 900 number. Fans picked up the phones, calling in to get the latest on Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. By January 1989, a staggering three million calls had been logged. That year, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released their gold selling 3rd album, “And in this Corner”. The 2nd single from the album, “The Groove” featured a remix with Grover Washington Jr. This was one of the first collaborations between a Jazz artist and a hip-hop group.
Jazzy Jeff continued to advance and refine the DJ art form as time went on. He became the first corporately sponsored DJ and designed the first mixer for scratching the “Gemini 2200” – or Jazzy Jeff Signature Series. One year on, the Fresh Prince hooked up with Quincy Jones and NBC to star in the hit sitcom, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Jeff joined the Fresh Prince on the TV show and played Will’s best friend “Jazz”. Jeff quickly became a fan favourite over the six years the show was run. Discovering a new passion, Jeff decided to set up his own production house, “A Touch of Jazz,” in 1990 with a view developing the musical talent in Jeff’s hometown of Philadelphia. Young producers such as James Poyser and Vikter Duplaix soon joined the fold and began working on various projects.
In 1990 Jeff was snapped up by the Simpsons creator –Matt Groening – featuring on the ‘Sing the Blues’ album, co-writing “Deep, Deep Trouble” and producing the record. In 1991 Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince released their 4th album, “Homebase”. It featured the now classic, “Summertime” which went to no.4 on the pop charts. Their success continued; in 1993 Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince released their fifth album, “Code Red,” featuring the track “Boom! Shake the Room” which was the 3rd rap single to go to number 1 not only in the UK but all throughout Europe and Asia.
By this time Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince had released 5 albums in 7 years, sold 14 million records, won 2 Grammys and 3 American Music Awards. As Will began to focus on his acting career, Jeff continued developing “A Touch of Jazz”.
1993 saw Jeff become a spokesman for Starter Gear, appearing in the now infamous commercials alongside stars such as Rodney Dangerfield and Janet Jackson. A Touch of Jazz worked on Will Smith’s first solo album, “Big Willie Style” in 1997. In 1998 Jazzy Jeff signed a solo deal with Columbia Records. He recorded an album for the label, which featured tracks with artists such as Masta Ace, Eminem and De La Soul. Unfortunately, Sony chose to shelve the hip-hop work, wanting something more “commercial.” This setback didn’t stop Jeff from continuing his production work and in 1998 they worked with artists such as Tatyana Ali and Kenny Lattimore.
In 1999 Jazzy Jeff and A Touch of Jazz produced Will Smith’s second solo album “Willennium.” In 2000, A Touch of Jazz worked on an album by soul singer Jill Scott. The entire album was recorded at A Touch of Jazz and Jazzy Jeff served as Executive Producer. “Who is Jill Scott” was released with little fanfare, but strong word of mouth pushed the album to double platinum sales. This success garnered A Touch of Jazz worldwide recognition 10 years after Jazzy Jeff had set up the facility. Soon, A Touch of Jazz was working with renowned artists Musiq Soulchild, Dave Hollister, City High, Floetry, Lil Kim and Michael Jackson. In late 2001, a small label from the UK, BBE, asked Jeff to produce a solo album as part of their beat generation series which focused on producers. Jeff was given full creative control and jumped into the project.
His first solo album “The Magnificent” was released in August 2002. The album featured Jeff’s trademark scratches and a number of emcees and artists who were working at A Touch of Jazz. The album consisted of a mix of hip-hop, soul and house tracks to showcase Jeff’s versatility as both an artist and producer. It proved to be a great success for the independent label. This triumph led to “The Magnificent” Jeff touring to promote the album in 2003. He had come full circle, turning his hands back to the records such as he started his career. In 2004 Jazzy Jeff released his first official mix CD, “Hip Hop Forever II” for BBE. The album showcased Jeff’s trademark mixing skills and many underground and overlooked hip-hop classics. In November 2004 Jeff released a house mix CD for Defected, “Jazzy Jeff In the House”.
DJ Jazzy Jeff’s philosophy has always been for a DJ to play all kinds of music. On “In the House” he showed he could mix house with the same skill as he mixes hip-hop or soul. In 2005 Jeff continued his 20-year collaboration with Will Smith, working on Will’s fourth solo release “Lost & Found.” The album features production and scratches from Jazzy Jeff. The pair have since performed together again at various shows and premieres. Whilst continuing to tour the world, Jeff also began working on his second solo album, “The Return of the Magnificent.”
Jazzy Jeff continues to represent the DJ throughout his records, mix tapes, and live shows. His deep-rooted passion for music emulates through all of his work, whether it’s with Will Smith, Jill Scott or his own solo records. Over the course of his career Jeff has achieved many accomplishments, but he is a humble man who is still doing it, as his 2002 hit said, “For ‘Da Love of ‘Da Game.” And this is how he will continue his work.