Jacob Smith has become very well-known in the music scene with his bass playing skills and lessons on Instagram but he is far more than just a social media sensation. Jacob is a smooth operator who is composed well beyond his years. Born, raised and currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Jacob Smith is a bass player, composer, producer, instructor and session player. We had a chance to sit down with the modest master of musicianship to get a glimpse into his upbringing and why he loves the instrument so much.
What makes the bass so special to you and how did you gravitate to it?
The bass is something that feels like it has always been there with me, and it just about has. I’ve been playing since I was nine years old and from around age of fourteen, I knew I wanted to play bass for the rest of my life.I originally wanted to play drums and like so many other musicians, so did the rest of the students in my class. I gravitated to an instrument on the sign-up page with no names beside it: The electric bass. I came home the next day and my dad had a Squier bass waiting for me and I instantly fell in love.
Who were your influencers and how did you even decide to get involved with music?
My family has an intense passion for music. My dad played guitar and sang at church and at home a lot. He always had a guitar in his hands it was a part of everyday life when I was younger and my sister played some guitar and clarinet as well. This was a big part of why I gravitated towards playing an instrument. The first day I had a bass in my hands I played for a few hours and couldn’t put it down.
What genres of music do you like?
I love just about all styles, especially when done well. The music I perform the most would be Gospel, R&B, Funk, Soul, Rock and Pop. My own personal music ends up falling more Into the Jazz Fusion category.
Describe your style of playing, tone, strengths and weaknesses, that can be improved on the bass.
I would definitely say I have some strengths in the JacoPastorius style of playing. That is what I am best known for on Instagram. What I am not as well known for is that I love just playing traditional bass like James Jamerson on the P-bass with flat wounds. Playing strictly the groove and the bass line has helped me get some of my various gigs. I definitely would like to continue to improve gospel music. I look up to and admire the bass players in this genre who are so talented and I try to woodshed that a lot. I always also want to work on my flat-style bass playing as well.
Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference to you? Who have learned from or inspired you early on?
When I was in the fifth grade at Saint Paul’s, I was thrust into the top bands in the school program as the bass player. They had an outside band program called Learning Music Band. The Saxophone Director, Bruce Bohnstengel, would sit next to me and play the EWI which is like an electronic saxophone. I am thankful for his knowledge he had of the bass players roll and how solid you have to be, as well as how you have to know where you are in a song and cannot rely on other people when you are playing. I actually still work for him a lot which is very cool.
In addition to my high school mentors, another large influence was JacoPastorious. I managed to get my hands on a copy of his first CD from a drummer when I was eleven and thought that was pretty cool. Charles Mingus – Big Band, is the best of both worlds with the upright was a big influence. Marcus Miller and also Victor Wooten are huge influences on me, also. I went to Victors Bass Nature Camp when I was 17 years old. I’m from the city so it was good for me to get out of my element. Victor during an exercise on having good tempo said, “Your time feel is very good.” That seemingly small comment from him meant so much to me.
We see you studied at the University of North Texas. Can you tell us what influence your studies had on your career?
I went to UNT for Jazz Studies from 2007-2011 and it was great because of the relationships I made. I also played in the prestigious One O’Clock Lab Band from 2011-2013 and as a result was able to able to travel the world. Those relationships help me in my career on a daily basis. They also helped me learn to adapt and stay ready to play whatever a gig throws my way. I was playing majority upright bass during those years.
What are you working on during this lockdown period?
I am very fortunate to be a part of a church group that has a TV broadcast set up and has the info-structure for daily broadcasts. In addition, I also have Zoom Lessons, producing tracks and creating play-along tracks for churches as well.
I have also had the great opportunity to work with Daric Bennett, who I met at NAMM this year. We are working on Instagram, with 15 minute lessons and techniques and teaching moments, together. We meet fairly often and Daric recently posted an interview with me on his website. Lessons can be found on his site where you will find some great insights on my playing. It has been really great working with him! We hope to do some in-person stuff in the future.
Currently, I’m working on a YouTube channel that will showcase lessons, gear, gigs and playing. I’m going to start with “Ask me a Question”.
What advice would you give to others during this lockdown to stay positive?
Press into your instrument. Try things you have wanted to do but just haven’t had the time. Turn toward music and try to get into new elements of it; Try to practice more than you have had time to before, try new ways to play that you haven’t before. When I am working on my craft as a musician, it does bring my mental well-being to a better place. A book that I like a lot is called The Dip, by Seth Godin. It talks about the moment before you really start to take off and see improvement in something is where it’s going to be extremely difficult or feel that way for most people. You have to know if you should keep going or know when to quit as well. Eat healthy and workout, as it can help fight off the lower points a little better! Being a chocoholic, this isn’t always easy to do. I feel people’s pain out there, just try and take care of yourself and your family as best you can.
You have quite a presence on Instagram (@jacobsmithbass). Can you share how this all came to be?
I started an Instagram channel as a way to get my music to a large audience. I had released an album and I was really thankful for the people that checked it out. That said, I realized I needed a platform for a release that would have a larger amount of people to see it after all the hard work and effort I had put in. It was a better way to market my craft. The first year I was hoping to maybe hit 30,000 followers. I never thought it would blow up the way it has and I’m very thankful for where I am at now.
This inspired me to give my music and Instagram more interest, so I started to post every day for 6 months, and to see what would come of it. It’s been very cool to meet some of my bass heroes, thanks to the IG platform. The effort I put in led me to try other things and see what would work for me and my process because it involves sitting down, getting the camera going, and trying to be as professional as I can. I wanted to bring my style in and get my voice out there and I did this every day. Sticking to it is what really helped me out.
What advice would you give to others for the social media success you have had with Instagram?
What I love about Instagram is that it is uniquely me and my own voice. What I say to others is, ‘be yourself and have your own voice to bring out on Instagram’. Your content should be uniquely yours. If you try to do something that you are really not about, you will pigeonhole yourself and not be happy creating your content. I genuinely love what I am doing and enjoy creating the content. Figure out how often you should post and when you should post. For strategy, look at other channels that you like. I find in most parts of life, if you put your full attention and effort into something you will get better at it and you will reap the benefits. There is no secret to music, there is no shortcut, the real part of it is putting the work in.
Also look to other channels for inspiration. I looked at pages like Scotts Bass Lessons, Daric Bennet, The Real Free (Darrell Freeman) and Bubby Lewis, just to name a few. You’ll inevitably put your own spin on things and find a way that suits you best.
You just released a book of online lessons, “Ghost Notes”. Can you share a little more about this and how you came up with this name?
Ghost Notes is a book of exercises and grooves with detailed tutorial videos for each chapter. I want it to be a book that people of any skill level will read and then walk away feeling inspired to practice more.
Ghost notes, in bass context, is a muted note. When you pluck the string but your left hand is just laying across the string so it makes a percussive-type tone and Jaco used them a ton! It is a technique that is used and is frequently called “dead notes” or “muted notes”. In trying to appeal to everyone, I didn’t want to use “dead” in the title. Some people can get superstitious about things. The drumming term is ghost notes. It’s to help you implement those types of techniques into your playing and it’s something I had not found any practice method on. A student asked me during a lesson, “How do I get better at playing ghost notes?” I came up with this idea in a lesson. It’s a great book for beginners as well as advanced players.
There is far more going on with you outside of Instagram. Can you share more with us about your session work?
I’ve been working at Modern Electric Studios in Dallas a lot more, recently. My friend, Jason Burt, is a seriously talented producer who’s helped get me on some exciting projects there and beyond. One in particular is an album by David Ramirez. That, along with a few live performance videos, is something I’m very proud of.
Over the past five months, I have started working with Leon Bridges. I’ve done a few gigs with him and spent time with him in the studio. I hope to do a lot more when COVID-19 is over. Leon is from Texas, which is very cool and he’s a Grammy Award winner. It’s inspiring working with him. He is an incredible writer and singer. We recently did a live stream video to raise money for part of Fort Worth. We raised 70,000 dollars in an hour. It was great to give back to an area of Texas I love so much.
Can you share more with us regarding your teaching?
Currently because of COVID-19 and the quarantine, I teach online lessons. The younger students are very talented individuals who come in prepared and with a ton of questions. They inspire me and remind me why I love the bass. I am now giving lessons via Zoom online, as well.
Please share any of your accomplishments and achievements.
I’m proud to have toured with the late Bob Belden and his fusion group, Animation. Also, performing with Leon Bridges, Jimi Tunnell and George Colligan.
Can you provide us feedback on your Bergantino gear.
I first found Bergantino about 8 years ago. I was in the market for a new cabinet and looking for the best. After reading countless reviews and information, I decided on a CN212, which resulted in some of the best tone I’ve been able to get from a rig. Then, just last year after rediscovering my love for the 212 cabinet, I started talking with Holly and Jim. They were kind enough to add me to their artist roster. I love the clarity the products bring, especially at high volumes. It packs a huge punch without sacrificing tone, which I love. Then, add to that the EQ tools needed to successfully adapt a less than friendly room acoustically and you can’t go wrong!
What do you like about the B|Amp and how are you currently using it?
I use the B|Amp in the studio a lot as a preamp, direct to the board. Also, I use it in my rehearsal space and with the church band. What I love about it is how valuable it is to my craft and how you can get downright surgicalbut it is really easy and intuitive to use. You can get in there and tweak frequencies, which I love, because sometimes you get into a weird room and you really need that flexibility. I love the variable high and low pass filter. That is just amazing and been so useful!
What do you like about the forté HP and how are you currently using it?
I’m crazy about the forté HP. First and foremost, I just love the 1200 watts of headroom. The EQ is very useful and you turn it and it does what you are looking for it to do. You have endless headroom and well-made circuitry…you can get it to do anything you want. I even played an upright bass with it and the HG410, it sounded amazing! I was in this giant glass room and I’m able to lower high and low pass filters to clear up the mess of the room. The sound tech still gets the full signal which is just genius on Jim’s part.
Tell us your thoughts on the HG 410 cab.
I use this cab all of the time. I have the 212 as well and bring it out if I am concerned about a weird room or if I need two cabinets. The back firing driver works out very well. The cabinet packs a serious low end punch and it looks amazing, too.
Which basses are you currently using?
Right now, my main two basses I’m playing are my MTD 535 and a Fender AVRI 63 P bass. I also have Moog Sub 37 I use for synth bass. I recently got a new Fender Ultra that I am loving.
What would your followers find surprising to know about you that they have not read about yet?
I’ve been working on producing Pop and Trap music when I’m not playing bass.
I love playing basketball. I’m not an amazing player but I am a good shooter and like to play with my son outside in the driveway with a hoop we have. Riding bikes is another passion I have. Mountain and BMX bikes…I am getting my son into this, as well. I adore spending time with my family, my wife Lisa and my five year old son, Haden.
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