Noted musician David Jassy shares his music production knowledge, performance talent and experience with the men at San Quentin since arriving as an inmate one year ago.
The artist, songwriter and music producer had a song nominated for a Swedish Grammy Award in the best dance category in 1999.
Jassy, 40, was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden. His father is a doctor from The Gambia in West Africa. His mother was a scientist.
“I never stopped writing music,” said Jassy. “I wrote music in the county jail.”
Jassy makes no pretense when he is teaching the men how to make music at San Quentin Prison Report (SQPR) in the facility’s media center, where he is assigned to produce music.
“He has taught me a lot with music production,” said Earlonne Woods, another inmate who volunteers in the media center. “I believe he does a hell of a job with his performance.”
“He’s sculpting our words,” said Nigel Poor, a producer with the San Quentin Prison Report radio and professor of photography at California State University, Sacramento. “The music that he adds becomes an essential character to the stories. Now it’s at a completely different level.”
Jassy said he started writing music in the mid-’80s. He was influenced by West African music, R&B, Christian music and the hip-hop culture was, at the time, still in its infancy.
“I kind of mixed all the genres together,” said Jassy, who recalls being inspired by the works of Public Enemy, Run DMC, Grandmaster Flash, Eric B and Rakim. “That whole era laid the foundation for my music career.”
Jassy said he “got deeper into music” at age 17 after his mother died in an automobile accident in Italy. He, his brother and two of his sisters were also injured in the crash.
A few months after the accident, while still in high school, Jassy signed his first record deal with Stockholm Records. He then toured around Scandinavia.
At age 22, Jassy went back into the studio, and Andres Avellan, a Chilean-born artist and producer, joined him. Together they formed the group Navigators.
After showcasing their act to several record companies, they signed with Arcade Music. “At the time, it was very unusual for a hip-hop act to sign with Arcade,” said Jassy.
Come into My Life was Navigators’ first single, and it was a hit. The group’s second single was I Remember, but it was “Superstar,” their third single, in 1999 that made it to number one on the Swedish dance chart for six weeks, number one on MTV Europe and lots of radio play. The same year they released their debut album “Daily Life Illustrators.”
Jassy said while with Navigators they were able to tour and release music in Europe, Asia, Cuba, Mexico, South America and Africa.
In the process of recording and producing their sophomore album, Jassy said Navigators split up. However, he went on to write songs for artists such as Ashley Tisdale, Charice, Sean Kingston, Iyaz and other European groups.
“Warner Brothers in New York liked the songs I wrote for Ashley’s first album, and they invited me to Los Angeles to write songs for her second album,” said Jassy. He has been featured on two of Tisdale’s hit singles, Be Good to Me and Crank it Up.
Jassy said he wrote the song Pyramid for singer Charice, which was her first single.
“My cellie woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me my song (Pyramid) was on Oprah’s show,” where Charice performed it, said Jassy.
Jassy said he was happy about the song’s success, but saddened by the reality that he was imprisoned when it debuted.
Pyramid hit number one on Billboard in 2010, and ABS CBN News (www.abs-cbnnews.com) reported Charice’s Pyramid number four in Yahoo’s most-irresistible category that year.
After Jassy was arrested in November 2008 and subsequently convicted, he concentrated on playing guitar and piano. He has added writing Christian music to his repertoire and has performed in San Quentin’s Garden Chapel.
“Regardless of my present situation, I feel extremely blessed and grateful that I am able to work with music,” said Jassy. “I am ever so mindful to give God the glory for it.”
“At Solano (state prison) I really picked it up,” said Jassy. “I fine-tuned my skills on keyboard and piano.”
Jassy participated in the Alternatives to Violence Program while at Solano. At San Quentin, he is a participant in an anger management program called GRIP (Guiding Range Into Power).
Now that he is in prison, Jassy plays for a different fan base – other prisoners, staff and outside guests. He is currently a member of the hip-hop band Contagious.
“Music is emotions, and it requires teamwork, especially in a band situation where you have to work as a group,” said Jassy. “Each player contributes to the final product, which is a song.”
Earlier this year, Jassy and the band performed in a video, San Quentin Music Lockdown, to raise money for the prison’s music program.
The band was also invited to perform for the prison’s on-site Patten University graduation, the Kid CAT banquet to celebrate rehabilitation accomplishments and the annual Day of Peace event.
Jassy said the music industry focuses on making money, but the San Quentin music program “helps me to use my time constructively, and go deeper into the craft. Now I write from (my) experience.”
Jassy said that he believes “people who express themselves with music are less likely to express it with violence.”
Jassy said every prison should give inmates the opportunity to play music. “I believe that music is a very powerful tool for rehabilitation.”
“I’m grateful for people such as Trish Allred (his piano teacher) and Raphaele Casale (San Quentin’s music sponsor),” said Jassy. “They give their time and allow us to grow and to have the opportunity to practice.” For more information go to www.davidjassy.com.