The Real Book Jazz Fake Book Story
Simply put, a “fake book” is a book of lead sheets. Lead-sheets are a basic musical skeleton of a tune with the melody and chords and lyrics (if any).
Musicians called it a fake book so that they can “fake” a tune as if they really knew the music and practiced it before.
Back in the early days, musicians mostly earned their money from a tip jar. People would request songs and if the musicians could play it, they got a tip. If the musicians would be able to play the requests especially if the song request was more sentimental in nature the evening tips grew larger as the clientele got more and more sauced. If the band couldn't play a song request people would start grumbling about how the bar shouldn't hire these musicians and consequently, if there was too much grumbling to the bartender, then the band would not get hired back. So if you have a couple of fake books and are able to read lead sheets you will stand a better chance of filling requests from the audience and get hired back.
Some enterprising musicians would buy piano-vocal books, which was the only way to obtain music then, and cut out the melody line, chords and lyrics and paste them onto a single page often taking a 5 page score and compressing it down to a page. So if you had a book of 500 or so of the most requested tunes, you will be better able to fill the requests by the audience. Then other musicians would ask if they could buy a copy of the compiled tunes and the persons would photocopy their book and sell it for whatever they could get for it. This was a violation of copyright laws since no royalties were paid the the composers.
These days publishers have created their own fake books for specific styles such as Jazz, Rock, Latin R&B or Broadway show tunes.
Back in the 1960's or so students from Berklee College of Music started to compile the “Real Book” which was a mix of modern jazz and standards. Eventually it grew to 3 volumes but the first version was the most popular among jazz players. Sher publications came out with their “correct” version of the Real Book. And now publishers like Hal Leonard, Warner Brothers and Columbia came out with legal fake books with permissions and royalties paid to the composers.
Back in the day, musicians would purchase fake books from the trunk of a car in an alley somewhere or walking into a music store and asking for this special book you have for sale. Then you would hand over $35 and get your illicit Real Book. Many music stores got hauled into court for selling them.
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