The bass in western music has had its importance in many circumstances over the last 100 years. It has been part of a section in an orchestra, the sound of the tuba in a marching band, the thud from early Mississippi blues recordings, the long legato walking bass in jazz. These are all the sounds in ensembles that if they were not there would completely transform the music style of that era thus stating the importance of the bass as the 'backbone' in music.
When taking on a new student, bass teachers should start with sharing an understanding of just how important the bass is, and acknowledging the responsibility that the bass player has to the music to make sure that it feels and sounds grounded. That is why learning about styles of music and where the bass fits into those styles is very important.
In the early 1900s after the classical era, the bass took on a very different role to the usual technique of bowing the instrument in a large orchestra setting. Music from New Orleans was the talk of the town and this is really where the bass started to take shape in modern music. At first the sound of the bass was being produced by the Tuba. This was due to its travel ability in a marching band for the funeral processions and street parties that they would have. When the music started to move into the clubs off the main streets, this is where the double bass became part of the band. Early recordings from Louis Armstrong feature the string bass and start to produce proof that the music really is centred around the rhythm and the sound of the bass. A simple 'two feel' on the bass was all that was needed to keep the musk glued together as the traditional jazz bands of the 1920's whistled away like songbirds over the melody.
As the music developed the bass evolved as did the musicians ability to play it. The bass that has come from the orchestras in Europe to the Mississippi deltas had come as full size basses. Too heavy and big to carry from jazz club to jazz club. So the bass was reduced in size and there was a change in sound and style. Be bop had hit New York and musicians were playing faster and longer than ever. The reduction in size of the bass allowed for the bass player to keep up with the demanding conditions of playing be bop and thus develop once again the importance of the bass in this very important moment in music history.
The double bass lead the way for many years until the invention of the electric guitar and amplifier. Along with this came the electric bass. Allowing it to be heard more clearly and adding punch to any music club. The acoustic bass had not died out by any means but the Electric bass was definitely a stepping stone for modern music and the way in which bass was heard.
You now rarely ever hear any music that does not feature bass. This is because of its subliminal importance to music and how we hear it.
Be the 'Backbone', as you would just be a floppy mess without one.