When something feels right, you know it. Thaine Smith, a Philadelphia guitarist, composer, and sound engineer, says that though he’s had many other jobs, when he hits the stage, he feels most at home. “When I first performed for a live audience when I first started learning jazz, I got an indescribable feeling of belonging, and that I was actually ‘doing a good day’s work,’” he says. “Nothing has the same feeling of belonging as playing live with others! Ever since I started playing the guitar I wanted to perform original music live. It has always been a yearning of mine, and to make a living performing for others would be a true blessing.”
Smith is one of the inaugural cohort participants of the Jazz Philadelphia CORE Cooperative program, which supports artists in developing success and wellness plans. “The CORE Cooperative Program will enable me to build on my audio professional skill set, provide services to other musicians, and expand my network of musicians so that I can begin playing regular gigs—a long term goal of mine,” says Smith. “I am most thrilled about this opportunity because it represents a pivot point in my musical career. I am looking for the necessary skills to leverage my first album release into performance opportunities, opportunities to connect with other musicians, and showcase my audio production skills to potential clients… the CORE Cooperative Program [will] be an invaluable asset.”
Smith, born in Washington D.C., moved to the Philadelphia area when he was seven. At an early age, he developed a passion for guitar from watching his father play. An opportunity in highschool to intern in New York with the saxophonist Ohad Talmor turned him onto jazz, and he eventually went on to get a degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in jazz studies, while also completing a B.S. in psychology. He’s continuing his studies now and will be earning a Master of Business Administration from Villanova University, where he also works doing clinical research.
Smith’s debut album VISIONS features 14 original compositions and was released in May of 2022, and he also recently started smithingrecords LLC, a music production company dedicated to tracking as well as music mixing, and mastering. He’s proud of the work he’s already done helping another emerging musician in Philadelphia, Brandon Dennis, record a cover of “My Funny Valentine.”
“This is Brandon’s first professional release and is scheduled to be released at the end of March. It was such a pleasure to see Brandon’s creative vision for the song come to life, as well as being able to use my production expertise to make it a reality.” He says he started the company not to produce his own work, but to help others get their art out into the world.
It’s tough, though, for musicians, given the lack of performance opportunities, which have also been devastated by the pandemic. And Smith says that right now, “the economics of performance spaces and the amount of draw that’s needed from an artist to just cover expenses of operating a live event space,” don’t work. It’s tough for owners, he says, “let alone for the artist to make a living.” Smith says that he wants to help “create an environment where the economics of performance are beneficial for all those involved and to take advantage of low-cost and outdoor spaces.”
Another hurdle he knows he needs to get over is building an audience without a budget for PR or advertising, which means building community one person at a time. “My community and fan base, though small, is full of passionate people—family and friends—who love art for art’s sake. They continually motivate me to persevere and finalize my musical projects and I am so grateful for their support. They are passionate people and free thinkers and I love talking with them about their pursuits as well. It means so much to get encouragement from others when dealing with original music or ideas.” The audience, in a way, says Smith, is the key to more investment in jazz. “By getting the public more involved in performances, history, and potentially sponsoring recording spaces, live performances can be re-established and grow with renewed support from the public.”
“My community and fan base, though small, is full of passionate people—family and friends—who love art for art’s sake. They continually motivate me to persevere and finalize my musical projects and I am so grateful for their support.”
Smith hopes to be one of the people leading the charge. “I pride myself on having a straightforward, no-nonsense communication style in which I look to empower the members of my team and work with them on achieving our company goals,” he says. “I believe great managers are required to be great listeners, who are able to leave their ego at-the-door and work through problems with critical thinking and collaboration. Meeting team members individually if possible can also be very beneficial for discovering the best ways to tackle problems.”
“I believe great managers are required to be great listeners, who are able to leave their ego at-the-door and work through problems with critical thinking and collaboration.”
He says the biggest obstacle he currently faces is a lack of connections with the jazz community, and he hopes the CORE Cooperative will help introduce him to more collaborators. “Due to my work commitments and my pursuit of an advanced degree, I was unable to participate in the jazz community how I would have liked and in a way that could foster my development,” says Smith. “I think the CORE Cooperative couldn’t have come at a better time. By going out and meeting community members and playing with other members of the community, I believe I can make my vision a reality by getting in touch with the community I seek, especially in light of my first album’s release this May!”
To keep encouraged, Smith thinks back to the joy of playing on stage for the first time, and also to a time when he didn’t quite have the music under his fingers. In between was dedicated practice. “I always remind myself that success is built off of daily habits that are cultivated over a long period,” he says. “I always think back to my early days playing guitar when I could hardly get the fingers right for basic chords, and look at where I am now. It serves as a great reminder to take action and make consistent, small, concrete steps towards your goals.”
You can connect with him on thainesmith.com
Jazz Philadelphia is proud to have Thaine Smith in the inaugural cohort of the CORE Cooperative, an entrepreneurship, leadership, and wellness program for jazz artists and advocates. For more information, visit Jazz Philadelphia.
“The audience, in a way is the key to more investment in jazz. By getting the public more involved in performances, history, and potentially sponsoring recording spaces, live performances can be re-established and grow with renewed support from the public.”