About Jason Smith

  • Jason Smith- Builder of Banzas

    Jason Smith is a builder and player of banzas. “Banza” was the name given in the early French West Indies colonies to a 4-string guitar-like instrument made of a skin-covered half gourd to which is attached a long, flat neck which supports strings. The banza was alson called a “banjer”, a “banjar”, a “bandalore”, and many other terms in the English colonies and mainland.

    The banza gave rise to the instrument that was best-known as the banjo, with the body being made from primarily wood and metal. The banjo has contributed immeasurably to popular American music in past years, including ragtime, dixieland, jazz, and bluegrass. It is an honor to recognize the rich musical heritage and contributions of Africans and African-Americans to our culture by preserving such an important part of this tradition.

    Jason begam learning his craft of banza construction in 1993 after meeting Scott Didlake of Jackson, MS. At that time Mr. Didlake was at the forefront of constructing banzas, which are the gourd ancestors of the modern banjo. Through a rich understanding of banjo history, innovative incorporation of modern construction techniques, and impeccable craftsmanship he built what are considered to this day the finest banzas. Jason was very fortunate to have studied with him and strives to produce instruments of his design and quality.

    Jason uses high quality gourds grown primarily in Mississippi, and salvaged Mississippi heart pine, as well as imported woods. He builds banzas of many different sizes and scale lengths as well as different string configurations (from one or two strings “soprano banzas” to a full size “five stringer”, or even a guitar banza). Banzas can be built with or without frets. Contact Jason at jaybirdbanjo.com to place a custom order for a one-of-a-kind banza.

    I began my banjo adventures as a high school student in 1988 in Jackson, Mississippi.  I learned basic three-finger Scruggs style banjo from an accomplished local player, Jerry “Banjo” Brooks.

  • I then had the good fortune of meeting Scott Didlake, who had just perfected his art of building banzas .  Banzas are the gourd ancestors of of today’s modern banjo which came to the New World from Africa and the Caribbean.   Through Scott’s amazing kindness and enthusiasm I began to learn how to play “classic banjo” and minstrel style banjo.
  • Before Scott’s death from ALS, he taught me to build banzas.  I strive to continue and preserve these wonderful gifts.
  • When not playing the banza,  I also play the violin.  I am a graduate of Mississippi College with a degree in music.
  • I also play numerous freelance engagements throughout the year, both on violin and banjo.