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The Real Book!

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by Ike Harris, Apr 15, 2010.

  1. Ike Harris

    Ike Harris

    May 16, 2001
    Nashville TN
    I'm certain this has been covered to some extent in TB before, but while we're here, let's recap. The Real Book started as a non-legit fake book out of Berklee that has been very popular. It is fairly comprehensive and has filled a void where such a collection was needed. The problem is, a lot of the tunes tend to have "incorrect" changes, which have translated into much repetition on the bandstand over the years, and the tendency to depend on the Book on gigs instead of your own memory, which I think would impede the very thing that you want to explore: improvisation.

    I'm one of those older guys who came up in the pre- fakebook era, where I could rely on the more seasoned players to guide me as to chord changes and form while in the act on the stand, and really in debt to those guys who forced me to learn a how to develop a method of putting together a tune on the spot. It's really paid off for me later when I go and just take a bass and myself to a gig and feel confident in knowing tunes and being able to learn what I don't know instantly.

    That's not to say the Book isn't useful. I have most of what's available, either in paper or pdf form on disc. They're great to have as a reference and to xerox or print out if needed for new material where uniformity is desired.

    It seems like the opportunities for "faking" tunes have declined, but whenever you have a chance to commit these to memory, as you might get a steady gig for a period, take the opportunity and you'll thank yourself later.

  2. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    I think that pretty much sums it up, Ike. Well said.

    I will add that I've had my own struggles with Real Book independence in that culturally in this era instead of having those guys help me through changes, I sometimes get calls for gigs and they say "just bring the book". I try to push past that, tell them that if I can get an idea of what they cover, I'll do my homework ahead of time, etc.

    The good news, both culturally and practically is there there is not just "The Book" at this point. In addition to the largely atrocious Berklee book, there are also some really quality, legal alternatives now. I've noticed that since the Hal Leonard book has been out, people are less inclined to just say "bring the book", because there are several versions and tunes are in different keys across them, etc. Not only is it good to have better charts, but it also makes it impractical for people to just say "we'll worry about it later, we've all got the same crutch."

    There are some old threads where I was documenting the gradual destruction and discard of my Real Book. I set a standards list, shed 5 a week, played them live without the crutch, then tore that page out and threw it away (recycling, of course) so that I would never look at it again. After I had done that with about 40 tunes, I threw the book away. My plan was something dramatic like throwing it off of a bridge, but in the end, it wasn't that important to me to warrant such dramatics. It just went into the bin.

    So, fast forward a few years. It kind of worked. When someone calls "Have You Met Miss Jones", I get a little buggy because no one has called it for the last year and a half and I'm not sure I remember the bridge. Some tunes are easier for me to fake that others. What I really got out of it, is the ability to learn things quickly. I won't say how because it doesn't matter and I'm not sure I know, but going through the process of learning tunes and then tearing the page out so that I couldn't just have it open as a crutch, something enabled me to get a new tune or an old one that I had forgotten into my ears and under my fingers more quickly. I haven't developed superior skills of retention and suspect that i won't at this point. If someone will tell me mid-week, here's a list of songs that we might play this weekend, I can internalize them and if not, bring myself a proper chart to read down. If they call a standard that I'm not comfortable with, I have enough others to be able to say "You know, I'm not that fresh with that one, how about ___________" or if it's a clean tune they can talk it down to me and then we can play.

    Guys that really like to just play gigs out of the book, I'm able to politely decline now. Even if I know the songs, God knows what they're going to play.

    But, I do have a few legal books and that .pdf. I use them as a reference and to practice reading and try not to ever take them out of my basement.
  3. nic salsus

    nic salsus

    Mar 16, 2010
    You're right Ike. I'm probably of the first generation that did grow up with it and it was a crutch a lot longer than it should have been...probably still is in terms of the quickness of my ear for playing a tune I've never heard. I did a gig when I was still in school where the leader pointedly called a bunch of tunes not in "The Book". I flailed and remember him saying, "You gotta know these tunes, man."
  4. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2004
    Good post, Ike. I came up with the old timers where I used my ear and watched the pianists left hand. This was at the same time the real books started coming out. I never brought a RB to a gig however. If I was hired to play with a group, I expected the leader to provide whatever music might be necessary for tunes that weren't commonly done, mainly falling outside of the tin pan alley/showtune realm. Same thing when it is my gig and I hire the band. The real books are very helpful for this.

    On my current steady gig, we have put together a couple of our own books of tunes we wanted to do, but were new to us. They include RB charts and our original compositions and arrangements. This way our subs have something to refer to, also. With the complexity of contemporary composing, it isn't feasible to do it by ear and on the fly anymore. Have to have some music.
  5. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    It comes down to this: The more you're doing the harder it is to do it well.

    Play on time.
    Play in tune.
    Make choices.
    Listen hard.
    React to those around you.

    Now add in:
    Read from fake-book
    Correct wrong changes in fake-book
    Cue band to proper changes

    "Something's gotta give, something's gotta give, something's gotta giiiiive!"
  6. Great thread,

    I'd also like to add that many piano players, some guitar players, have their own changes or subs that they like to use for standard tunes. Bill Evans wrote the book on this. In my view, it's impossible to know all the premutations so if people are going to use a lot of subs, it's generally a good idea to have charts. The only thing that ever ticks me off is when someone expects you to know their changes without providing soem road map. Typically these kinds of players are not that famous even if they're legends on there own time!
  7. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Great stuff guys. I came up in the Real Book era and I can relate to what Troy is saying about gigs where they just ask that you 'bring the book'. Over the years I've really tried to wean myself from that a pretty unhealthy and unnecessary dependence on the thing. It's rough though because many of the guys from my generation really learned the standards from the book. Lately I've worked to revisit as many recordings of tunes as possible. I never bring a book to the gig anymore and if something comes up where that I really need music I have the iRealbook app on my iPhone. Basically pocket changes. But then I go and do my homework.

    Since this is the pedagogy forum that is what I have encouraging my students to do that too. When I work on a tune I have them go find a few versions of a tune and report back on what they heard and if there were differences in changes etc.
  8. nic salsus

    nic salsus

    Mar 16, 2010
    And one of the classic problems with the Real Book is that a lot of the tunes were transcribed from specific recordings and you get the chord substitutions that particular artist used.
  9. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    True, but I have the same problem with having someone teach me the song or from transcribing it myself. Not just changes, but heads. Which is the "right" phrasing? Some times in matters and some times it doesn't, but it is a challenge.
  10. Troy, as you know many very well known artists have recorded the same standards. They all put their own spin on the melody as well as the chord changes. My point is that these tunes should not be regarded as museum artifacts. These tunes can be living and breathing and as vibrant today as the day they were written but only if you put something of yourself into them. You have to be able to "bring something to the table" otherwise your just a copy band doing whatever your favorite version of the song is.

    Like Swami, I did not grow up in the era when these tunes were actually popular. I was fortunate that my dad was way into jazz and this music was always playing in our house. I've also listened to many different recordings of the same tunes and hopefully internalized the essence of the tunes I play most often. After that, it is up to me to add something and not just copy.

    Guys like PW or DH grew up playing all these tunes. Both of them could cut us all in a contest of who knows the most standards and what are the hippest changes. Both are a wealth of knowledge on this subject. The rest of us have to do some research, maybe a little digging. The cool thing about this site is that every once in awhile these guys shed some light on there times and those unique jazz experiences.


    BTW, the Spiro Mittel 4/4 G with 3/4 Weichs on the E, A and D is working great!

    Trey :cool:
  11. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    I will also add though that I dislike playing with piano or guitar players that feel they can take total control of the harmony and expect everyone else to just hear it. Jazz is a team sport. I've played with more than one of these guys that I've wanted to slap upside the head.
  12. nic salsus

    nic salsus

    Mar 16, 2010
    I've always liked to know the changes as the composer wrote them. Jazz players will always reharmonize but if you don't have a common starting point the music can sound somewhat ungrounded. Playing something like No Greater Love intending to sound like the Oscar Peterson Trio but ending up sounding like Circle.
  13. I know just about any standard that anybody could possibly call and many reharmed versions of each one, mainly by copping different versions of each one by players who are such total control individuals........
  14. TroyK

    TroyK Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2003
    Seattle, WA
    Now you're speaking my language!

    Agree with you on the music, it's just one of the challenges. My favorite question when I'm not sure where someone I'm playing with is coming from on a song is "What's your reference recording for this song?" If they have an answer and I plan to keep playing with them, then I make sure to check out that recording before I see them again. If they don't, then chances are they learned it from a fake book and I take the opportunity to share some of my favorite recordings of the song with them. If they are happy plowing through changes that they don't understand or have a musical tie to, then I probably shouldn't be playing with them anyway.

    But, frequently it's me that needs to do my homework.
  15. As a general rule if I walk into a gig and I see music stands with realbooks on them, I know it's gonna suck. Just a bunch of guys, not listening, a not reacting to anything except what's in front of them. Somebody calls "A Time for Love" or "It Might as Well Be Spring" and everybody says huh ,"don't play it...it's not in there". When I came out to L.A. in '91 that's what I saw. There was a time in New York when you wouldn't be caught dead with one of those books. If somebody had great changes you just reacted and played them. Man, I guess I'm officially "old".
  16. Being from the UK, I suppose the scene is slightly different but the same problem applies. Being that I live in a fairly rural area most of the jazz gigs are either visiting musicians or local groups who seem to lack a little imagination.
    I know how it feels though organising my own group to have the need for common ground and having the Real Book there and then asking who knows what tune is a way of establishing what is going to work but it does mean I end up playing the same tunes a lot of the time and it's difficult to get the rest of quickly-assembled groups on the same page if you pull a more obscure tune out of the bag.
    I'd say the biggest problem I have is that I don't really want to be a bandleader, I wish there was more of an apprenticeship thing going on. Certainly where I am in the UK as well it's difficult to get a jam session together because venues aren't keen on shelling out on paying a rhythm section for an event that only really attracts musicians.
    And so it goes on.
    I don't know how it is in the US but I definitely feel that older more experienced musicians need to do more to pass their knowledge on rather than only work with their contemporaries. If Charlie Parker hadn't taken a chance on Miles Davis and Miles Davis hadn't continually taken a chance on successive generations of young musicians we would have been robbed of some of the finest moments in jazz history.
  17. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    I'm guessing the cats you are talking about are in a different weight class then mine. If it is somebody really great there is much to learn and hear , no doubt.

    I'm talking about guys that aren't listening and just seeing how hip they can be. Ya know the saying... two hips make an a$$.
  18. Good point here, IMO, but.....for older, more established players this becomes a tricky situation that I've personally experienced here at TB and, more importantly, in real life. I've mentored at least five players who have become well known, internationally recognized players on their chosen instruments. They came to me at jam sessions asking for some information. If we are asked, we give. More times than not, we are not asked and if we continue playing the things that we have learned both by asking and just plain copying from those that came before us, many players consider us immovable and unapproachable. I've been labeled as being "intimidating" here and in my personal musical life. I find that bizarre, to say the least.
  19. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I woulda said something, but I was skeered to...
  20. Fer Godamm good reason.....stoopid kid. :eyebrow:

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