AI: The Best Thing to Happen to Music Since the Electric Bass


Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence—perceiving, synthesizing, and inferring information—demonstrated by machines, as opposed to intelligence displayed by humans or by other animals. – Wikipedia 2023


I love it.


Yet the above referenced Wiki waxing is misleading. AI is intelligence displayed by humans through machines. Sound familiar? Please refer to every invention stretching back to the printing press and earlier.


I am old enough (and proud of it) to recall when my tool of the trade, the electric bass / bass guitar was not considered a legitimate instrument. ‘Twas the lowly low-end bastard child of its prestigious and socially accepted ancestors – the guitar, and the upright bass.


The ‘60s pioneers of the electric bass, including James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, Jerry Jemmott, Carol Kaye, and Jack Bruce, to cite a few, along with their ‘70s offspring maestros such as Stanley Clarke and Chris Squire – to reference a scant two: mostly created their style and approach based on the six-string and the doghouse.


Then, circa 1976…. along came a cat from South Florida named Jaco Pastorius.


Imagine, if you will, a flying saucer landing mid-field during Super Bowl half-time. A wiry, dancing, frenetic being emerges with a worn sunburst, rosewood apoxy board fretless Fender Jazz and commences to groove, phrase, improvise, render chordal and harmonic passages hitherto unknown to human (or any other) ears. Shadows and light!


Stuff that no one ever thought of previously and stuff that was impossible to create on the guitar and/or the double bass fiddle.


Hey, this electric bass guitar is a …musical instrument!!!!


That was Jaco’s impact on popular music and the bass guitar. As a student at the University of Miami School of Music circa ‘79, whenever the classical (“legit”) players would toss off comments such as “that’s not a bass…” Our singular response was “Jaco!”


They lost the argument. Every time. Still do…


Fast forward to the development of digital recording, synthesizers, auto-tune, electronic drums, sequencers, and other technology utilized to compose, record, and perform music in the past 100 plus years. All were reviled by the establishment. All were derided as novelty, inhuman, fraudulent; the stuff of tricksters, dilletantes, and posers. Some things never change.


Reminds me of the time a UM classmate arrived in ensemble class with a primitive version of what would become the DX7 keyboard. A device (tool) which derived its multiple sounds from horns, strings, percussion, and permutations / combinations thereof. I was assigned to jam with him. It was a memorable performance. At the conclusion our “teacher” joked that said gismo – and similar – would never replace traditional instrumentation.


Ha! I’m still laughing forty-four years later.


AI is another tool in our toolbox. And it is one with infinite possibilities. Will it be misused? Sure. I crack open my Manhattan apartment window every morning with a flathead screwdriver jammed between the sill and the frame. Was that the original intention of the apparatus? No, but it works! I approach AI as a means to enhance artistry, not replace humanity…after all, humans control AI and if we allow AI to control us, then it’s the fault of humans, not machines….


A new Rolling Stones song with Brian Jones? John and George on a new Beatles track? A fresh Freddy crooning a Queen composition? I dig a jam comprised of Miles and Jimi and Thundercat. Joe Dart and Francis Rocco Prestia anyone? A Janis duet with Amy? Esperanza Spalding trading verses with Billie Holiday?


If those late artists were here today, they’d go for it.


Push the envelope. Attempt the impossible. Fear nothing. Do the undoable. Isn’t that the nature of art?  


I expect pushbacks aplenty from this op-ed. I now take the opportunity to get out ahead of the negative motely and hereby inform you that you’re on the wrong side of history.  


Exactly like those “experts” who bellowed that the electric bass was not a real instrument.


Ya’ hear that one Jaco?!


Tom Semioli

9 June 2023