Wednesday, August 03, 2005

This Book is for Real

Today, I did something I would never have imagined doing even a year ago: I walked into a local music store and bought a Real Book off the shelf.

It's weird even talking about this, but now that the book has gone legit, I guess we can. Here's a primer for the non-jazzer readers: There's a type of music book out there called a "fake book." It was originally aimed at skilled keyboard players who wanted to make up their own accompaniments to tunes rather than play someone else's arrangements of said tunes. Instead of a two-staff format with bass lines and all that, a fake book features just the main melody of a tune and its accompanying chord symbols. It's also known as a lead-sheet format, and it lends itself well to horn players, since that's all the information they really need.

In the 1970's, an underground publication came out called the "Real Book" (a play on the term fake book, obviously), which contained most of the well-known jazz standards in concert-pitch, Eb and Bb editions. The editing was somewhat sloppy at times, but it was a great resource for "pickup" bands playing standards without a rehearsal (as I'll be doing on a few tunes with my school combo tomorrow night). There was only one problem: No publishers were listed, and no royalties were paid...which made them totally illegal.

The Wikipedia article linked above credits the compilation of the books to Berklee College of Music students and the original lead sheet production to noted jazz composers Carla Bley and Steve Swallow (which would explain the preponderance of their tunes in there), but one would think that they would've been busted for it a long time ago if that were the case. At any rate, the books could be found with little difficulty if you knew where to go (in the back alley in an unmarked brown truck at midnight, etc.; I saw someone selling them literally under the table at a jazz festival one time). They really were an indispensable part of a jazz musician's library, but the stigma of illegality was always there. In the late 80's, a company called Sher Music came out with three volumes of "The New Real Book," which gained points for accuracy while losing some for including 80's pop-fusion tunes in there; the shelf-life of those tunes had expired by the time the books hit the stores. (I mean, really, would anyone ever play Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." on a gig? If so...I'm really glad I don't get gigs like that.)

But a funny thing happened this year. The world's largest music publisher, the Hal Leonard Corporation, bought up all the rights to the Real Book tunes and published their own legal one. It's called the Real Book Sixth Edition (acknowledging the five previous illegal versions). The cover is identical to the old ones, and they even use the same "jazz manuscript" font that was employed (albeit by hand at the time) in the originals. But the difference is that most of the hideous editing mistakes have been corrected, and, best of all, everything is legal and the composers get paid. In a very shrewd move, they priced the books at $25.00 (ten bucks cheaper than the illegal ones), which should drive the underground distributors out of business, and rumor has it that they've pursued legal action against those distributors, if any can be found.

Since it's legal now, I'm going to make it the official "textbook" for combo in the fall, but I bought my first one today, and it really did feel odd to just get one off the shelf like that. I wonder if this is how it felt when Prohibition was lifted (yes, that's a wild analogy, but it was the first one that popped into my head).

UPDATE: Lest there be any doubt of the legitimacy of these books, they can now be bought on Amazon!

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I edited the Wikipedia entry linked above so that it now contains information on the legal version. That was my first time to do such an edit,, I thought I was an anal self-editor on this blog, but I was five times more careful with the Wiki. Compare that entry's paragraph with mine and you'll also see that I used a more formal style over there.

The thread that just won't die: My readers are still talking about Raffy; in the midst of that, we hear some good news for local hockey fans.

Someone took them on, I guess: Last night, a friend sent me the link to a download of the clip from the July 24 episode of Family Guy where they brilliantly parodied the video for the song "Take on Me" by the band a-ha. When I went to post it today, it had been taken down, so I guess we'll have to wait for the DVD now.

So moooove already! I'm not sure which is funnier about this story--the fact that a cow blocked a busy turnpike in Pennsylvania, or that actual cattle rustlers were called in to remedy the situation. (I'm sure Eric and his traffic-reporter buds would have a field day *rim shot* with that one.)


Eric Grubbs said...

You know, cattle were out around I-35W in northern Fort Worth one morning. I don't know how they got them all rounded up but it tie up traffic for a few hours.

Kev said...

So the usual cattle drive at the beginning of the stock show went awry, did it? ;-)

j-guar said...

i bought the C version of the Sixth Edition Real book, and it is a little weird to see the "handwriting" all printed out. it is nice to have correct changes and correct melodies though. both the front and back covers fell off of my B-flat 5th Edition, so it's also nice to have one that is not falling apart, even if it is in C.

Shawn said...

I also bought the newer version - but I bought it since my 5th version was going to shreds, and I am prepared to start memorizing standards... and that is how I plan to do it.

As far as the cows go... when I was leaving UNT on the 15th of July... I thought I would be smart and take those side roads off until I could see some traffic moving (Since it was dead still) and I went so far that it took me all the way until it does a U-Turn so I ended up in Texas about an hour and a half more because I thought I could be a big-shot. A Missourian at that....hmm.

Kev said...

J-Guar: They do have both Vols. 1 and 2 of the Sixth Edition in Bb (and Eb, and I believe even bass clef--trombonists rejoice!) available now.

Shawn: I'm not surprised that you were stuck in traffic on 35 coming out of camp; that's a pretty regular occurrence nowadays (and even worse if you're headed towards Dallas, or even to Ft. Worth when there's a race at the motor speedway).

And yeah, those freeway service roads will make random U-turns when they're too cheap to build an extra bridge over a creek, railroad track, etc. It sounds like it took you a while to get going in the right direction this time, though...

Oh, and my 5th Edition Eb totally fell apart too.

Anonymous said...

Last I heard a few weeks ago, we are still awaiting Hal Leonard to release the bass clef version. When that happens, I will own my first Real-Fake book. Yea!

Jim P

Anonymous said...

6th edition is really awful.

Kev said...

What don't you like about it, Anon? So far, my only objection is that when there's a rhythm section intro to a tune, they will, for example, publish it in the Eb book in Eb bass clef instead of just making "cues" in treble clef (nobody who plays an Eb instrument actually reads it in bass clef!). Other than that, I like the accuracy and readability much better than in the old illegal editons.