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Jazz musicians on artificial intelligence at the Montreal International Jazz Festival

Nate Smith
Cory Dewald
Cory Dewald
Nate Smith

Late last year the conversation around artificial intelligence (AI) went from theoretical to very real. Tools like Chat GPT make creation and collaboration using artificial intelligence much more accessible than they had been previously, and soon audio recordings started to appear featuring artificially generated—but realistic sounding—facsimiles of famous artists singing songs that they never in fact really sang.

So the question of how AI will disrupt the future of music is a big one. And when it comes to answering big, cultural questions, it is prudent to turn to our great philosophers: jazz musicians.

Last week at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, one of the largest jazz gatherings in the world, the question of AI was on many minds, but despite the disruptive potential of the technology, for the most part the musicians were unconcerned.

Drummer Nate Smith, who is no stranger to interacting with technology himself, says he believes nothing will ever replace what human musicians can do.

He told me, “What humans do, particularly with instruments, can’t really be replicated. I think there is a feeling and an emotion that can’t be achieved [and] I do hold out hope that AI won’t be able to duplicate that feeling. There has to be something that makes us human.”

Smith concedes, however, that as with many tech tools before, he expects AI to influence the way musicians work in the future.

“We will see a musician come along who finds some bridge between what AI can do and what people can do, and that person will create something that we all emulate,” he said.

Pianist and producer Carlos Homs, who was in Montreal playing with DJ Premier and the Badder Band, also believes that it’s the responsibility of musicians to define their relationship to their tools.

He said, “It’s really up to the creatives to set the narrative sometimes, and if we stay away from something long enough somebody else will set that narrative for us.”

Pianist Emmet Cohen says he’s using the technology to increase his efficiency. He explains, “Chat GPT is a gamechanger on many levels. [...] It’s just a tool to help us with productivity but I don’t think that AI is going to take over people coming together in a room and listening to music. We might be safe on that front.”

Singer Stacey Kent put it succinctly. She said, “If AI takes over the world, what they do to music is the least of our problems.”

Artificial Intelligence is here to stay, but for the time being, the music appears to be in safe, human hands, at least according to the jazz musicians we talked to at the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

Listen, above.

Leo Sidran is a Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist musician, producer, arranger, composer, recording artist and podcast host based in Brooklyn, New York.