There was a time not long ago when in order to get a fake book full of great standard tunes you had to go to your local music store and ask for an illegal copy. The history of the Real Fake Book began as a 4 or 500 page handwritten and then mechanically copied book would be handed off in an under the table cash transaction leaving the musician with his or her much anticipated contraband. This clandestine interchange was a necessity because the original editions of the “Real Book” had been written without the necessary copyrights. This legal requirement was sacrificed in favor of creating an accurate and central reference point for the great Jazz standards that would be enjoyed by many musicians. Unlike many of the commercial fake books of the past which included only the chords the RB included the melodies of the songs as well, thus making it a valuable resource for all instrumentalists.
The story goes that the “Real Book” had been written and compiled by students at Berklee College but of course the original authors weren’t quick to pen their names on illegally copied intellectual property. This book through its underground distribution channels ultimately went through five editions and fell into the hands of thousands of musicians from New York to Vancouver before the Hal Leonard corporation purchased the majority of the copyrights in 2004 and subsequently released the first legit version, the sixth edition. Despite the fact that many of the songs in the original version were missing, the now legal version could be found in the print music section of music stores, meaning royalties would be paid to the authors.
The fundamental elements of every song are Melody, Harmony, Form and Time. The Fake book format provides each of these elements in a simple and easy to read format that is designed to be read without turning pages, this goes beyond a chord chart which only provides the chords and measures. The modern Fake book gives a complete picture of the song and does so in an easy to read format that is ideal for the serious musician and student.
In the FB format the chords are written above the melody thus providing both a chord chart and a melody line. This allows the musician to use the book for accompaniment or for melodic and harmonic reference for building solos and arrangements.
These same charts can be used by other instrumentalists, even going so far as books written for Bb and Eb instruments that are paginated identically thus making it ideal to use as a call book in small combos. With a Fake Book chart you should be able to get a feel for the song in a short period of time and then be able to “fake it” with your own arrangement and even within a combo context on the spot.
The Real Fake Book has become a part of every improvising musician’s toolkit and for good reason (that being said, you don’t want it to become a crutch). The charts are accurate and care has been taken to put them in the original keys of the original recordings while getting down to the bones of the chord progression in a clear, concise and easy to understand sensible harmonic language. This combined with the fact that the songs chosen are “Standards” that have stood the test of time makes it an essential for the improvising guitarist wishing to translate what they have learned in theory to making “real” music.
* It might be worth noting that recently the series has expanded to other styles with the R&B and The Real Rock Book among others.