In West Philadelphia, born and raised, on the decks is where he spent most of his days.
Jeff Townes, better known as DJ Jazzy Jeff, is one of the world’s most experienced and sought-after DJs.
In the early days of his illustrious career Townes worked with friend and collaborator Will Smith on the local circuit in ‘Philly’. This is where they formed hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince.
“My job as a DJ is to make you forget about any kinda troubles or problems you may have, bad relationships, you lost your job… just to lose people for a little while with the tunes that you play,” says Townes.
The pair quickly received commercial acclaim and won the first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance in 1989 with Parents Just Don’t Understand. They eventually went on to have international success with Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble and Boom! Shake the Room, which reached number one in Australia.
Townes also starred as Smith’s best friend ‘Jazz’ in the hit television series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which he thought was “really cool”. The recurring character was famous for being repeatedly thrown out of the house by Uncle Phil (James Avery).
The music scene has certainly evolved from those early days. Townes has ensured longevity by moving with the changing genres and having a blast at the same time.
“I never in a million years thought that the DJ would be one of the biggest entities in music now,” says Townes.
“I think because I love what I do so much, I may enjoy myself more than the people I am playing for.”
With so many DJs able to churn out their own music from home studios and publish it immediately online, Townes says originality should still play a key role. Does he have any advice for aspiring DJs?
“I don’t know if the advice that I would give them works today. Which kinda sucks,” he says.
“Try to be original, try to have some kind of signature, something that you can give people, that people will remember you by. You always need to have some kind of curve ball.”
Townes won’t be drawn on what his curve ball is though.
“You know what, if I tell you what my curve ball is then it’s not a curve ball. When people leave [a DJ set] they don’t talk about the classic songs that you play. They talk about ‘I can’t believe he played that song’. You have to throw something that doesn’t fit, but it fits so perfect, and that curve ball has to be played at the right time,” he says.
“I tell people playing the biggest record in the world at 10pm and playing it at 1am is very different.”
A good DJ is someone that can keep everybody dancing and the crowds have never stopped moving for DJ Jazzy Jeff. In a career spanning almost three decades Townes says there are millions of moments that stand out, but making people feel good is what he aims to do.
“The one thing that I am superstitious about… I feel like the day I start thinking about them [standout moments] is the day I am done,” he says.
“I think the older that I get… you appreciate when people say ‘That was amazing, you took me on a journey’ or ‘I went to see you at a pool party in Las Vegas and met my wife’ – those are the kind of moments you look for.”
One moment that will go down in the annals of pop culture is a recent last-minute reunion with Smith on UK television’s The Graham Norton Show during May this year. The performance, which also featured Smith’s son Jaden and a surprise appearance from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air favourite Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), went viral around the world.
“That was a lot of fun,” says Townes.
“I was in Los Angeles and I got a call from Will. He said he wanted to do something special and [asked] if I would fly to London and three hours later I was on the flight.”
The duo sat down as soon as Townes arrived and whipped up the rundown over breakfast. Friends were amazed that they could rehearse and create something so exciting at the breakfast table.
“[My friend] was like ‘So you guys don’t have to rehearse, you can just call off what you wanna do and just do it?’ and I was like ‘You know we’ve been doing this for twenty-something years!’”
Townes and Smith went to the show, ran through it once, then did it, and the rest is another chapter of their popular history.
“I jumped on a plane and flew from London to Las Vegas and by the time I land the show had aired and I started getting all these messages,” he says.
“It was really strange for something that fast and simple to have that kind of impact.”
For now, Townes will continue to spin the tunes that people love and keep throwing those curve balls because he wants to keep taking what he does to the next level.
“I think if you are a producer, musician or any type of artist, that you’re going to be making projects for the rest of your life. I don’t think you will ever get out everything that you make.
“I don’t think I’ve started doing what I am supposed to do yet.” (LL)
Dec 14, The Ivy, 4/330 George St, Sydney, $35+bf, 9254 8100, moshtix.com.au