A Philly music legend…
First Class DJ…
Mr. Will Smith’s “Summertime” co-conspirator…
And first class gentleman.
Yes, those are all of the words and phrases that anyone could use when it comes to describing the many talents and unlimited creative perseverance of the City of Brotherly Love‘s very own, DJ Jazzy Jeff.
And now after thirty years of straight up making us werk for our “Summertime” lives and beyond, the incredible DJ is serving it up more than ever before, with sets at the annual Roots picnics, a killer opening set at last year’s Gaga/Lenny starring Democratic National Convention concert, and now a special event at NOTO Philadelphia, in which Jeff will be spinning it all sorts of out and then some a bit later this hump day evening.
But before he takes over our Philly dance music lives once again (and that he most certainly will do..), Jeff was ridiculously gracious enough to stop by Philly Mixtape for a few beats of local music tea where he broke mugs about the continuing “Summertime” madness, what it takes to keep on in today’s crazy times, and of course, his love for all things music.
My man! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with Philly Mixtape, from both a personal level and from all of your fans, we truly appreciate it. Now, I know that you’ve been asked a million questions about “Summertime,” but I just want to say that I was ten-years-old when that record came out, so I’m totally about that life. So, just getting down to the nitty-gritty of it all, how did you and Mr. Smith come through with the track? What was the overall vibe like putting it together? Tell me everything, man… Well, mainly it was Will’s first season on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, so he was in California, so you know of course anybody on the East Coast…we get the four seasons..leaves turn brown and it’s golden..next thing you know we got the winter and there’s snow. But when spring hit and everybody started to come out [Will] called me because he was he was so used to eighty-five degree winters being in L.A. He didn’t get a chance to experience that seasonal change that we all grew up with. So as it started to get warm and him being nostalgic of Philly, he would call me and be like, “Yo, so what’s going on?” and I’d be like….it was eighty-two degrees here today and I got the car out and I wiped it down and [he would tell me], “Awe, man, I miss that!” And then we would turn it into…you remember such-and-such, you should see her..she look completely different than she did last year! [Those are] the things that we go through during the changes of the seasons, especially going from spring into summer…the first day that it’s hot enough to put out shorts..somebody got a new car who didn’t have one last year…some girl looks completely different..she was the “ugly duckling” and now she’s beautiful. You get all of those nuances of summer that [Will] absolutely missed being in L.A. because it was eighty-five degrees in December! So, that’s where the nostalgia part came in. And then it was [basically us] just talking about the feeling that you get with the seasons. And that’s kind of why I feel like “Summertime” has a different meaning to people who have four season climates. [It’s a cool] record to everybody in L.A., but everybody in Philly knows exactly what we mean going from fall, winter, spring to summer. And that’s how it was basically created, man.
Now, in those “Summertime” recording sessions, did you and Will think you would have this kind of a long-lasting impression with a seasonal flow? You don’t ever think that. You’re making a record for the moment. Especially hip-hop records back in the ’90s, you know, we were just like, let’s make a cool record that kind of talks about the summer and next year it’s going to be over. You hope in your career that you have something that just doesn’t go away…that’s an ultimate blessing. Whether it be a movie…you know everybody still talks about Scarface…it’s passed generations..Al Pacino got one with Scarface. We’ve been blessed to have that with both The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and “Summertime.” It’s a golden blessing to have one, and it’s almost impossible to have two that you created something that sticks and transcends generations. But you don’t ever think that, I think that every summer since that record’s come out I think it’s the last one and their not going to play it past that summer…and as soon as it’s warm…there it is.
Absolutely, man…there it is. So, I have to ask, how does it feel for you personally knowing that there may be a new little dude or diva out there getting their “Summertime” on for the very first time this year? You don’t ever get used to that. I tell people all of the time that so many times when I get together with Will, we’ll go through this nostalgic period..we’ll just look at each other and be like..’you believe this? No.’ Because everybody thinks that you just get used to it and settled in. I think it’s the exact opposite or I guess it is for him and I that as you get older you become more reflective of how difficult doing something like that is, so you become more appreciative…this is crazy..look at what we’re still doing.
What are some of your personal favorite summer jams? Definitely “Summer Madness,” (by Kool & The Gang) where we got “Summertime” from. Roy Ayers, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” There’s a lot of summer nostalgia out there. The funny thing is that a friend of mine, another DJ, Mick Boogie, came to me eight years ago and was like, ‘Hey, I got an idea,.let’s make a Mix Tape that just has all nostalgic summertime records.” It was pretty much, let’s make it a little bit over an hour–you do seventeen minutes..I’ll do seventeen minutes. We did it..had someone do the cover..put it out and got over a million downloads. Everybody was playing it. It was the exact same thing..thought it was over when it was out….we cool. Come spring time, we started getting all of these Tweets and messages wondering if we we’re going to do it again. We ended up doing a second one and we’re on the eighth one now. Summer brings a feeling of nostalgia that I feel like I’m almost responsible to provide the music for your BBQ.
Okay, just to put you on the spot for a minute, shout out for me three of your all-time favorite records…. Can’t do that..Imma tell you why. People always ask me to pick my favorite Hip-Hop track. Music is like kids to me..I can’t pick my favorite kid. Mainly because I am a walking bank of music–I have all-time jazz records, all-time rock records, all-time hip-hop records. I am a music junkie. So, when someone asks me a question about picking my favorite music my brain goes in eighty-five thousand ways as soon as I hear that question. I love the Yellow Jackets, I love Chicago, I love Rare Earth. I can go down the list..I’m infatuated with ‘7os rock…I’m infatuated with the ’60s Chicago Oakland Scene and Flower Child..I’m excited about the ’70s jazz scene…my brain just splinters. It’s kind of like, I don’t know what to say. If I get in my car and drive to Philly..I might want to listen to some jazz or some Kendrick Lamar…it’s really crazy how my brain is when it comes to music..it’s a blessing and a curse.
You know what, I get a lot of grumbles over that question from other artists I interviewed…so I appreciate your honesty. I guess it makes me sort of a hypocrite, too, because I know I couldn’t answer it..one day I’m in a Madonna ‘Ray of Light’ vibe and on Friday I’m sure I’ll be living that Katy Perry life when her new album drops…. Exactly! Cause it’s real! I’ve been put on the spot so many times that I trip on how my brain just shuts down because it’s like you hit enter ion the computer and it just starts going. I can’t figure out my favorite record today is!
Okay, so you’ve been in the game a long time now, but do you still get nerves before a high-profile set, much like NOTO tonight? I never have lost the anxiety before I play. It’s just an excitement, you know, because it’s really dope to play records for people. It’s even doper for me to know the journey I want to go on and they don’t know the unexpected turns that I’m about to make that everybody’s going to look at me like I’m crazy…and when I make the full turn you gonna be like ‘Oh, My God, I can’t believe he did that.’ It’s almost like you have the answers to questions that will make people happy..and they don’t know when you’re going to give them the answers. And it’s not just that, I get a kick out of playing for people all over the world…great, I get to play at a cool spot for my hometown…but then it’s like, okay, I’m playing in The Philippines in Manila where it’s a whole different group of people who are just music lovers that want to hear the direction you’re going to play. So, you always get that little bit of anxiety. I almost feel like that if you don’t get anxiety or nerves before every time you play…you’re not really playing.
I would ask you what people can expect from your set tonight, but my guess is you’re just going to straight up make them dance… I just play. I have a little bit of an idea of what I’m always going to do..like, I got a bass, but I love the fact that, you know, I can go off target and just do some stuff. I have a lot of friends that have played at NOTO. Everybody has raved about the club and how great it is. I’m just happy that it’s my turn. I’m happy because you get to play in all of these cool places around the world and now I get to play in a really cool place in my hometown. I’ll go and pretty much wing it. I am Philadelphia, so as much as I’m playing, I’m probably in the crowd having a good time.
One last order of business, without going into all of it, there’s no denying that it’s a crazy world out there right now. And we need to spread the message to anyone that’s creative out there to keep doing their thing and let nothing stop them. So, what words of advice would you give to someone to keep it all moving along? Well, you know what, it’s crazy because sometimes the advice that I had or the advice that I took may not apply for today. I just tell people find something that you absolutely love and would do for the rest of your life for free. And if you work at it, nine-out-of-ten times it will be the thing that will take care of you for the rest of your life. I have been blessed that I have very rarely done any kind of job that I did not love. I don’t know how to do that. It’s interesting to me to give suggestions to people to ‘follow your heart’ because unfortunately there are a lot of people who haven’t had the ability to do that. And because I don’t know anything other, it’s more important for me to be happy doing something that I love. I just push people like…find out what your passion is…everybody has that kind of passion. A lot of times there’s always something that’s going to knock you off of your passion path, but if you’re passionate about something…don’t let anything or anyone stop you from at least giving it a shot.
And there you have it, guys and gals.
Are you an entertainer, promoter or event planner who’s the epitome of professionalism and dancin’ along fabulously in Philadelphia? Then Philly Mixtape wants to hear from you! For questions, comments and everything else in beat-tween (everyone’s welcome here, so don’t ever be shy), become a fan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and/or email Patrick DeMarco at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s promote it ALL up proper…and together. Slay.