Music written by musicians for musicians, critics…just about anyone but the paying audience

Time tested tunes - the original purpose of the RB.

Lennon-McCartney the way they were meant to be heard: played by a saxophone quartet.

Quick – name the most important jazz album of all time. Kind of Blue? Giant Steps? WRONG – it’s this ponderous collection of narcoleptic vibraphone music. And the Real Book wants make sure you have every track at the ready.

Mystery pieces. Who wrote them? Who recorded them? Who wants to hear them? Who cares?

Fake books have been around in one form or another since the 20’s. They were originally meant to be compendiums of popular often-played tunes that a group of disparate musicians could quickly pull together if the situation required.

Sometime in the early 70’s, someone (or a group of someones) decided to compile the definitive fake book, and thus The Real Book was born and has been the standard for Standards ever since. Rumors of the original compilers’ identities have circulated for years, including Paul Bley, Gary Burton, Steve Swallow, and Pat Metheny (all of whom are heavily represented in the RB). At the time, and for decades after, such tomes were technically illegal, since no one had bothered to secure the necessary copyright permissions. This was done, I believe, out of simple expediency rather than out of any criminal intent. In 2004, that issue was resolved and Hal Leonard began publishing a “legit” Real Book that you can pick up at Barnes and Noble.

Like a lot of things that started out illegal, something was lost in process of going mainstream. The Real Books sold over the counter today, for all their attention to trivial matters such as “copyright law”, “spelling”, and “not looking like something scribbled while riding a motorcycle” don’t seem to have the same charm as those underground codices.

I got my first RB back in 1987. In those days, you had to know a guy. I didn’t know a guy, but I knew a guy who Knew A Guy. This page is a tribute to the time when Real Books were real. Chock full of wrong chords and nearly illegible at time, but nevertheless – real.