On The Goe: After 40 years, DJ Jettt still spinning the tunes
Forty years is a long to time to commit to any job, let alone one in the music industry. You don’t spend the time and resources on something like DJing unless there is a drive deep within your bones telling you to do it. One has to have a passion to play shows, sometimes to empty rooms, sometimes well into the early dawn. Money, fame and sold-out shows come only for a lucky few. The rest of us are driven by a burning need to create a fresh experience for ourselves and for the audience.
The first time I remember seeing DJ Jettt play was one of those late-night, empty-room shows, the kind of show most DJs would phone in. It was well past midnight in the big room at the Mesa Theater for Radio Soul Train 2014. The entire venue had emptied out except for a handful of aimless kids looking for one last drink and the shot at a late-night hookup. Jettt was on stage behind a wall of red and green LEDs, spinning an all-vinyl, late-era disco set. Smooth transitions, clean breaks, the works. It sounded amazing.
The idea that someone could blend records so effortlessly without the aid of technology was mind-blowing. Seeing someone throw down without that crutch is kind of incredible, especially in this day and age where computer programs can beat match and sync songs for you at the tap of a button.
I’m sure I was the only one who noticed what Jettt was doing that night. In some respects, I felt like that show was for me. There’s no way the drunks stumbling around the dance floor knew or cared what was happening. They were too far gone, drowning in well alcohol, and couldn’t possible appreciate the mastery happening right in front of them.
That’s the funny thing about DJing, people only notice when your royally screw up and the music stops. They don’t notice the careful song selections or the spur-of-the-moment remixes. DJing is an unrewarding grind. Those who do it, do so because they love DJing.
This year, Bert Whittenberg, aka DJ Jettt, celebrates his 40th year behind the decks. Starting out in 1975, Jettt has been DJing longer than I’ve been alive. To put this achievement in perspective, 1975 was the year that DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore invented the scratching technique that led to turntablism and the emergence of the hip-hop genre. 1975 also predates the birth of disco club culture. “Saturday Night Fever” wouldn’t be released for another two years and famed New York nightclub Studio 54 had yet to open its doors. In other words, Jettt was into DJing before it was even a thing.
Hooked almost immediately to both the music and the way crowds reacted to this new live remix format, Jettt became a full time DJ in the 1980s, playing until 5 a.m. six nights a week. Early on, Jettt played out under the short-lived nickname Bertazoid, before switching back to his own name, Bert, sometime Harris, Whittenberg. DJ Jettt is a relatively new performance name, one he adopted right after moving to Colorado.
Starting out on a Technics 1100 and Thorens 126 turntable with a Bozac Mixer, Jettt still occasionally puts those skills to the test by playing the aforementioned all-vinyl sets.
Fast forward to 2016, Jettt will be playing at the 8th annual Zombie Prom next month for the fourth time.
“I never plan a set (ahead of time), however, this year being a significant anniversary for myself and returning for this function my fourth time, I have started making some notes to make sure I don’t leave anything out,” Jettt said.
Careful not to completely tip his hand, Jettt did tease some of the artists likely to end up in his set. Expect both David Bowie and Prince to be in heavy rotation, as well as The Cure, The Clash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Donna Summer and Earth Wind and Fire.
In many ways Jettt’s playlist captures his career as DJ. Incorporating new genres into his music library as they became popular, Jettt is a tome of dance music knowledge. He can take you back to the heyday of hip-hop, disco, house, and drum and bass because he was there, living it, and made a point of working these fresh styles into his sets.
Jettt has been a constant and consistent presence in the Grand Junction music scene and the fact that he cut his chops in the Miami house scene decades ago, and shares his passion and talent with local up and coming DJs, is invaluable to the community.
All the DJs playing Zombie Prom this year are qualified and deserving of the main stage spotlight, but this one in particular deserves the love.