Jazz Profile: Jacob Rodriguez

Jacob Rodriguez Photo: Frank Zipperer

by Eddie LeShure

“Jacob sets the bar high for not only saxophonists, but all local musicians. His deep harmonic knowledge and technical ability allow him to play whatever he wants and we’re all lucky to have Jacob in the local music scene.”    ~ Bassist Zack Page

Born in Seattle in 1981, Jacob Rodriguez grew up in San Antonio, Texas and began playing saxophone at the age of 11. “I had the fortunate experience of growing up with an older brother who played a lot of Guns ‘n’ Roses, NWA, Dr. Dre and Red Hot Chili Peppers. But it wasn’t until he gave me Duke Ellington’s “The Great London Concerts in 8th grade that I really fell in love with jazz. I was playing alto then so Johnny Hodges was an early influence. Then I was into John Coltrane’s “Lush Life” and I can still sing all his solos. I switched to baritone in High School and fell in love with the sound of Pepper Adams and Harry Carney. It was Carney’s melodies that really drew me to its sound.”

Jacob played with the San Antoinio ska band Spies Like Us from 1996-1999. When he was 20, Jacob moved to New York City to pursue his Bachelor and Master’s degrees at the Manhattan School of Music. “I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do, so I strictly listened to jazz for about three years – until my buddy Jesse Lewis turned me on to Nick Drake’s “Five Leaves Left” which blew me away.” While in New York, Jacob performed around the country with legendary artists such as Aretha Franklin, Cyrus Chesnut, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, as well as with jazz contemporaries Walter Smith III, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Marcus Gilmore. Jacob also played with the Soulful Symphony in Baltimore. “I absolutely cherished my early years in New York. Where else can you live where you can see the best jazz in the world almost every night of the week?”

Jacob has been a member of the Michael Buble band since 2007, playing arenas across the U.S. and around the world, and appearing on two Buble Grammy winners: “Michael Buble Meets Madison Square Garden,” and “Crazy Love.”

“Performing with Buble has taught me the ins and outs of being a professional entertainer. It’s a daunting journey to be making a living strictly by doing music-related activities. You can be having the worst day of your life, but just have to grit your teeth and smile since 12,000 people are watching you who paid good money to have their lives lifted. It’s your job to put on a show, but I’m always up for the challenge.”

“Jacob has a great sound.  His rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic sensibilities are outstanding.  But, I think the defining attribute of his playing is heart.  He tells a story with every solo.  That’s a rare gift.” ~ Trumpeter Justin Ray

Jacob makes his home in Asheville. “Currently, I’m playing with a quintet that uses Hard Bop Explosion as its moniker and plays a lot of the hits of the 50’s and 60’s. Also Coconut Cake, an amazing hodgepodge of touring Asheville musicians who perform traditional Congolese music in a very nontraditional way. I’m in the house band for the Alien Music Club’s weekly jazz jam at Barley’s. When in town, I also sometimes play with Shannon Whitworth, the Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, the Archrivals, stephaniesid and Russ Wilson. I love the diversity of the Asheville music scene!” Jacob was also recently hired to teach saxophone and assist with ensembles at UNCA.

“It’s exciting to work with Bill Bares and Brian Felix on improving their expanding jazz program and it’s a very inspiring environment to be in. In the past couple of years, I’ve been blessed to record with some very inspiring songwriters. Check out Moses Atwood’s “One Bright Boat,” “Starfruit” by stephaniesid, and Jon Reid’s “Reverb and Tambourine,” to name a few. I am currently writing with the intention of recording and am excited about that!”

So are the rest of us Jacob!