There Goes Another Gig

I was talking with a colleague recently who told me that someone had uploaded all the Nirvana songs to an A.I. algorithm, then the A.I. composed its own Nirvana songs that not only sounded just like Nirvana songs, but were also were really good songs.

Now, I’m not oblivious to the fact that, given the general demographic of this paper’s readership, the above sentence made as much sense as a blind man at a strip club, so allow me to define some of the above for you.

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Nirvana: a hugely successful ’90s grunge band.

A.I.- Artificial Intelligence: when the drummer tries to discuss music with the rest of the band. (Sorry, can’t help myself.)

Actually, A.I. is kind of like where computers gain near or above human intelligence, enough to even threaten our jobs; which brings me back to my friend’s story which he finished by saying that “soon, all us jazz cats will be replaced by A.I. robots.”

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Now I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I can understand why a lot of professions might feel threatened about being replaced by intelligent, self-aware machines.

There is however, a common conception that we in the arts are safe. It could be argued that self-expression is a uniquely human quality, and for this reason robots could never replace jazz musicians. But here’s why I think musicians’ jobs aren’t threatened: any intelligent, self-respecting robot would look at the salary of your average jazz musician and think screw that! I’d rather go back to my old job of laser-scanning groceries at Costco.

There Goes Another Gig
Vintage robot jazz: Edouard R. Diomgar developed the idea for “Les Robots-music” while being held in a German POW camp during WWII.

Think about it: what sort of intelligent, self-aware being would spend five hours searching for a reed good enough to do a 20 minute gig? Or spend tens of thousands of dollars on musical equipment to play $80 gigs? Or give itself a hernia just to play trumpet notes a little bit higher than the robot next to it?

Now yes, it’s possible you may get the odd malfunctioning, badly-wired and self-deprecating robot, that likes to punish itself and decides to take up clarinet. But I say, the more the merrier. Because the more I think about it, having robot jazz musicians might actually be a good idea.

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Personally, I can’t wait for the day when I can hire robots for my band, rather than the usual riff-raff I have to pull out of some god-forsaken bar at three in the morning to drag out on tour the next day. And I’ll never get a robot bugging me about are we getting fed on this gig?, or coming to the stage late for the second set because it was spending the break trying to crack onto the bartender.

But the more I think about it, it’s not musicians’ jobs I’m worried about—it’s you, the audient. I’m wondering if these robots, upon hearing the chaos and rule-breaking music of jazz, finding it doesn’t compute, and so in an obsession to try and understand it, buy all the tickets to all the jazz festivals, leaving you stuck in the foyer trying to sneak a peek at the stage over a sea of shiny metallic heads. And you know for sure they’ll buy all the tickets online before you because, well… they’re good with computers.

So if I may address our microchipped overlords directly: I’d like to officially welcome you into the jazz community. And with your permission, humbly propose myself to be your jazz ambassador. I think you’re gonna love me. After all, I can play all your favorite old-time songs (I played lot of computer games in the ’80s). And you know, I don’t think The Terminator was such a bad guy… I think he was just misunderstood. And even though I could never bloody figure them out, I always treated your ancestors (programmable VCRs) with respect.

And so I look forward to a bright future together, human and robot side by side, reveling in a unified passion for this great music of jazz. And more importantly, we can unite in the shared satisfaction of looking condescendingly down upon those low-brow philistine rock robots. Ugh… they wouldn’t know good music if it came up and bit them on the motherboard.

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Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. Adrian Cunningham was voted in a 2017 Hot House Jazz Magazine readers’ poll the Best Alto Sax Player in New York. His most recent album is Duologue, issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit him on the world wide web: www.adriancunningham.com.

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