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Artificial Intelligence and All About Jazz? DIG 9000 jams with ChatGPT

Artificial Intelligence and All About Jazz? DIG 9000 jams with ChatGPT

Courtesy New York Jazz Workshop


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Number is the ruler of forms and ideas, and the cause of gods and demons.
As the internet's oldest jazz resource, All About Jazz (AAJ) has always been on the cutting edge of using new technologies in the promotion of jazz and jazz musicians. This commitment continues to this day with the new technology that has emerged in recent months, namely, the so- called "Artificial Intelligence" (AI) known as "ChatGPT" that has created such a stir in the media and in education in particular.

AAJ has experimented with AI for content creation and the results are interesting and revealing. Can AI replace a human author? Is it really an "artificial intelligence"?

To delve into these questions, ChatGPT was given several prompts, but for this article, we include two prompts and two of ChatGPT's responses:

Prompt: Write an article on Miles Davis' influence on jazz piano, jazz composition, and jazz leadership.

Miles Davis is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of jazz music. Over the course of his career, he had a significant impact on jazz piano, jazz composition, and jazz leadership. Here is a closer look at Davis' influence in these three areas.

I. Jazz Piano

Davis was a trumpet player, but his influence on jazz piano cannot be overstated. He worked with some of the best pianists in the business, including Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea. Davis encouraged these musicians to explore new approaches to harmony and improvisation, and his collaborations with them produced some of the most innovative and groundbreaking music of the era.

One of Davis' most important contributions to jazz piano was his emphasis on modal jazz. This style involves playing within a particular mode or scale, rather than relying on traditional chord progressions. This approach allowed for greater freedom in improvisation, and it helped to give jazz musicians a new way of approaching the piano.

Davis also helped to popularize the use of the piano as a lead instrument in jazz. Traditionally, the piano had been seen as a supporting instrument, providing rhythm and harmony for other instruments to play over. However, Davis saw the piano as a versatile and expressive instrument that could take on a lead role in jazz. His collaborations with pianists like Evans and Hancock showcased the piano's potential for melodic expression, and helped to solidify its role as a central instrument in the jazz ensemble.

II. Jazz Composition

Davis was a prolific composer, and his music had a profound impact on the development of jazz composition. He was always searching for new sounds and new ways of approaching music, and his compositions reflected this exploratory spirit. Davis' music was known for its sophisticated harmonies, innovative use of space and silence, and its ability to evoke complex moods and emotions.

One of Davis' most famous compositions is "So What," which is built around a single chord and features a distinctive bass line. This minimalist approach to composition was groundbreaking at the time, and it influenced countless jazz musicians who came after Davis.

Davis was also known for his collaborations with other musicians, and he often encouraged his bandmates to contribute their own compositions to his albums. This collaborative approach to composition helped to create a more democratic and inclusive approach to jazz music, and it helped to foster a sense of community within the jazz world.

III. Jazz Leadership

Davis was not only a great musician, but he was also a great leader. He had a clear vision for his music, and he was not afraid to take risks and try new things. Davis was known for his ability to bring out the best in his fellow musicians, and he was always looking for ways to challenge and inspire them.

One of the ways that Davis showed his leadership was by encouraging his bandmates to improvise freely. He believed that improvisation was the essence of jazz music, and he encouraged his musicians to explore new ideas and take risks in their playing.

Davis was also a master at assembling talented musicians and creating cohesive ensembles. He was known for his ability to bring together musicians from different backgrounds and styles, and he was always looking for ways to push them to new heights.

In conclusion, Miles Davis had a significant impact on jazz piano, jazz composition, and jazz leadership. His influence can be seen in the music of countless jazz musicians who came after him, and his innovative and exploratory spirit continues to inspire new generations of jazz musicians today.

Prompt: Why are there so many theatrical elements like costumes in Sun Ra's music?

Sun Ra was a musician, composer, and bandleader who was known for his innovative approach to jazz and his unique personal style, which often included elaborate costumes and otherworldly stage props. Sun Ra believed that he was from Saturn and was sent to Earth to spread a message of peace, harmony, and creativity.

One of the reasons why Sun Ra wore costumes was to create a visual representation of his belief in the power of imagination and the infinite possibilities of the universe. He believed that by wearing these costumes and creating a fantastical stage presence, he could help transport his audience to a different dimension and inspire them to embrace their own creativity. Additionally, Sun Ra's costumes were a reflection of his interest in ancient Egyptian and African cultures. He often incorporated Egyptian symbols and designs into his outfits, and believed that African history and spirituality held important keys to understanding the nature of the universe.

Overall, Sun Ra's costumes were an expression of his artistic and philosophical vision, and helped to create a truly unique and otherworldly experience for his audiences.

From a writing perspective, these responses are both impressive. The writing is consistent and strong—it is grammatically correct and flows logically from sentence to sentence, and from paragraph to paragraph. For a computer to do this within a matter of seconds is an astonishing technological feat that will have serious ramifications as this software improves in the coming years. There are an enormous number of jobs that feature writing as a primary skillset—law, education, marketing, advertising, news media, internet content, code writing, creative writing, etc. The highest levels of these professions would, given AI's current state, still require human authors, but how much of that writing is more generic or generalized, and could easily be done by AI? The implications for automating what has been a completely human occupation until now are simultaneously frightening and exhilarating.

From a content perspective, the responses contain pertinent information that is accurate and interesting, but they are also very revealing in terms of AI's limitations. The software surveyed extant sources, decided which information is relevant, and then composed a narrative response. In short, they read like well—written undergraduate General Education papers from a jazz history class. They demonstrate that the "student," if you will, has surveyed appropriate sources, and has assembled that information in a well-organized and well-written manner. (However, both are very short—607 words and 183 words respectively—so we have to assume that the word count requirements for this assignment are well below 1,200-1,500 words, which is generally what is required in college for these kinds of assignments.)

What is conspicuously lacking is anything resembling original thoughts, ideas, connections, or perspectives. Thus, what we really have here is something resembling a "snapshot" of the human scholarship that has been presented as a computer-authored summary. What is also lacking, and demarcates the AI from a student paper, is that there are no sources provided. We assume that the information is accurate, but we are not provided with the source of that information. This appears to be a calculated part of the media spin campaign on AI. If sources were listed, they could be checked for plagiarism and the AI's sausage making would be revealed. Without those sources, it implies that the AI just knows the information and has composed the response from its own knowledge base, which it hasn't. The lack of full disclosure regarding sources is misleading; it implies that the computer is the creator of the information used to compose the response, which in turn gives it a tacit whiff of being "intelligent" or perhaps even quasi-sentient.

To use the student analogy, it's as if a professor asked an undergraduate student to compare the leadership styles of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus and the student somehow instantaneously produces a deeply informed and articulate response without doing any research on the topic, a highly unlikely scenario at best. An undergraduate student could write this paper after doing the research, but if that paper is simply a well-written summary of the knowledge found, then it would be similar to what ChatGPT has done here. An undergraduate would be taking the next step in the creation of new knowledge by, for example, theorizing on how the similarities and differences in their leadership styles shaped the music of these three geniuses. That would require, among other things, myriad musical examples to bolster the argument, along with many citations from the literature and from the musicians themselves to provide evidence for the paper's characterization of their leadership styles. This is where humans excel—looking at data, making connections, creating theories using imagination and intuition, and then searching for evidence that would prove or disprove those theories. These activities demonstrate real "intelligence" and this kind of content is entirely lacking in the computer's response.

So what is going on here? Basically, the software has successfully translated writing to a mathematical simulacrum which is used to calculate (compose) the response—to be sure, this is a remarkable achievement. But it is not "intelligence" of any sort, any more than a computer calculating the square root of a number is "intelligence." The real intelligence here is found in the sophisticated software that has taken written language and converted the innumerable nuances of the description of reality contained therein into a mathematical language that can be operated on by a machine.* As impressive as that is, it is still raw computing power at work here, not intelligence—the creativity and innovation needed to create the software is where the intelligence is found, and the source of that intelligence is human.

AAJ and AI

At AAJ, we will consider using this new technology to create general "reference" content on niche topics ("Why are there so many theatrical elements like costumes in Sun Ra's music?") and biographical information (example). Similar information can be found elsewhere. Here is Wikipedia's text regarding Sun Ra's theatrical performances:

In the late 1950s, Sun Ra and his band began to wear outlandish, Egyptian-styled or science fiction—themed costumes and headdresses. These costumes had multiple purposes: they expressed Sun Ra's fascination with ancient Egypt and the space age, they provided a recognizable uniform for the Arkestra, they provided a new identity for the band onstage, and comic relief. (Sun Ra thought avant-garde musicians typically took themselves far too seriously.)

And on his philosophy: Sun Ra presents a unified conception, incorporating music, myth, and performance into his multi-leveled equations. Every aspect of the Sun Ra experience, from business practices like Saturn Records to published collections of poetry to his 35-year career in music, is a manifestation of his equations. Sun Ra seeks to elevate humanity beyond its current earthbound state, tied to outmoded conceptions of life and death when the potential future of immortality awaits them. As Hall has put it, 'In this era of 'practical' things men ridicule even the existence of God. They scoff at goodness while they ponder with befuddled minds the phantasmagoria of materiality. They have forgotten the path which leads beyond the stars. (From David Martinelli's The Cosmic-Myth Equations of Sun Ra)

Encyclopedia Britannica also mentions Sun Ra's theatrics, but with only a paltry reference:

The Arkestra, which included dancers, dressed in fantastical costumes inspired by ancient Egyptian attire and the space age, and Sun Ra conducted while wearing flowing robes and futuristic helmets.

If someone were interested in the theatrical elements of Sun Ra's performance practice, it seems clear that the response of ChatGPT to a targeted question is substantively much better, richer, more focused and concise than other easy-access online sources. Our own benign (for now!) Jazz bot, the munificent and venerable DIG 9000, will experiment with this technology as a content creator for generalized references and niche topics; DIG 9000 fully recognizes that the AI is not, as of yet, a creator of new knowledge—for that, we rely on our stable of excellent contributors who bring new insights, perspectives, connections, and opinions on the ever-evolving and dynamic world of jazz.

* We take our extraordinary gift of language for granted, but we should remember that language is our primary means of engaging with the reality we find ourselves in, and our means of navigating our way through it. When this is considered in all its facets, the depth and breadth of the astonishing achievements of the ChatGPT software engineers are clearly revealed for what they are— another stunning example of human creativity and ingenuity that will likely usher in a new era of technological advancement that will make the advent of the internet pale in comparison.

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