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Just to con­fuse things, The Real Book is a “fake book,” a col­lec­tion of songs reduced to a min­i­mum. The Real Book was orig­i­nally drawn up by some­one  with really good musi­cal pen­man­ship: some­body who, before the dig­i­tal age, worked pro­fes­sion­ally as a copy­ist or arranger. There are some famous mis­takes: four mea­sures miss­ing from Jobim’s Desa­fi­nado, for exam­ple.
What an odd thing–a totally “unau­tho­rized,” “under­ground” stan­dard that cir­cu­lates on its own, strictly by word of mouth. My guess is that an enter­pris­ing stu­dent, or one of the noto­ri­ously under­paid (at the time) fac­ulty mem­bers might have decided to col­lect those sheets and per­haps put together more lead sheets in the same format. Because the thing is ille­gal, no one wants to say who orig­i­nally “pub­lished” it or wrote it. But I quickly found out that two his­to­ri­ans were already work­ing on it and I let it go: since then Barry Kern­feld has pub­lished The Story of Fake Books, which has a chap­ter on The Real Book and inter­views the two peo­ple who made it, while not reveal­ing their iden­tity. There’s rea­son to be skep­ti­cal of pay­ing a fee to play, say, April In Paris, since the com­poser, Ver­non Duke, has been dead for more than forty years and the song was writ­ten in 1932, almost 80 years ago.
That’s a big ques­tion, and it’s com­pli­cated by musi­cal prac­tice, par­tic­u­larly “jazz” musi­cal prac­tice. The orig­i­nal is cloy­ing and larded with Broad­way cutsey-poo: the repeat­ing open­ing motif, with its child­like sing-song, infan­tilizes the singer.
The Real Book turns Ver­non Duke’s first chord, Dm7b5 (D minor seven with a  flat­ted fifth), already kind of an inter­est­ing chord to start a tune with, into  a G7b9(sus4), a chord cal­cu­lated to pro­duce a much more ambigu­ous  feel­ing. In this exam­ple, you hear the phrase “April in Paris” played on a gui­tar, The first ver­sion is as Duke wrote it. It’s as if you rewrote the open­ing to Moby Dick slightly: “Some call me Ish­mael.” Bet­ter? In its title, The Real Book makes an ironic com­men­tary on the idea of a “fake book,” and also on the idea of copy­right itself. You can’t copy­right chord changes–WAY too many songs have the same chords, as that link shows. Barry Kernfeld’s web­site includes an email from “B,” one of the orig­i­nal authors of The Real Book. A few years ago, the Hal Leonard musi­cal pub­lish­ing com­pany saw the writ­ing on the wall and pub­lished its own, legal ver­sion of The Real Book, call­ing it the “sixth edi­tion.” It has exactly the same cover and uses a font that almost exactly mim­ics the hand­writ­ing in the orig­i­nal. As I got to NYC and started play­ing with a lot of older more expe­ri­enced guys though, it became appar­ent that there were a lot of prob­lems with the Real Book (wrong chords, wrong melodies, etc.) and the only way to really learn these tunes was to lis­ten to lots of record­ings. I keep a shelf of about 20 or so fake books, which I only occa­sion­ally refer to, but it’s nice to have as a ref­er­ence. As for the lit­er­ary par­al­lel, how about the altered ver­sion being “Call me … Ish­mael.” Just dif­fer­ent enough to be sug­ges­tive, but true to the original.
It’s such Berklee fluffery see­ing those irrel­e­vant Swal­low and Bley tunes in there along with so many studly stan­dards from impor­tant com­posers. Song writ­ers and Com­posers don’t leave chil­dren build­ings or land they leave them copyrights. In your opin­ion, should Ver­non Duke’s widow, the singer Kay McCracken and his fam­ily not inherit any of his copy­rights and are part of the “bunch of par­a­sit­i­cal leeches keep mak­ing money from his work”?
Great arti­cle, but I think we ought to make a dis­tinc­tion between the old fake books and the new ones, even aside from the fact that some may be ille­gal and some may not. The “thief” would then paste all of the thus cut off top staves onto a piece of blank paper, and photo copy what then appeared to be a “lead sheet.” That lead sheet con­tained the melody, the lyrics, and the chord sym­bols. The old fake books present a real chal­lenge to young bass play­ers of today — who actu­ally believe the chord sym­bols that they read in them.

Advice: Unless you really know what you’re doing, stick with using the new, legit fake books — when it comes to the really “old” stan­dard tunes. How­ever, even if we restrict the ben­e­fits of copy­right to the heirs of the com­poser, how long should we be pay­ing them? There’s also the ques­tion of how much the com­poser owes to his pre­de­ces­sors and his cul­tural con­text.
Inci­den­tally I seem to recall see­ing the Real fake book in Van­cou­ver in 1972 and being might­ily impressed by it. Jorge, I played briefly in a wedding-reception band that used some kind of pub­lished fake book, back in 1964.
I’m sure there were some band lead­ers who com­piled books of lead sheets on their own, but I remem­ber this guy too well, and he was very much too lazy to have done it on his own. Accord­ing to the most com­mon divi­sion of the time, the authors (Ver­non Duke and lyri­cist E.Y.
Amy, I sus­pect that you may not be aware of a) the dif­fer­ence between rival and non-rival goods (see Wikipedia for more details) and b) what copy­right is (or at least, was) intended to do. The short sum­mary: copy­right, or the grant­ing of arti­fi­cial monop­o­lies to cer­tain indi­vid­u­als, is essen­tially a tax on the pop­u­lace to encour­age artists to make art that they might not make oth­er­wise. The long ver­sion of the argu­ment is well explained in William Patry’s Moral Pan­ics and the Copy­right Wars, which should be required read­ing for any­body inter­ested in copyright. I just learned tonight that Hal Leonard — for years — has been pub­lish­ing LEGAL edi­tions of the clas­sic Real Books. A lot of them are “stan­dards,” tunes peo­ple  learn to play because they’re inter­est­ing or chal­leng­ing or just because other peo­ple already know them.
Next time you’re at a wed­ding or some kind of recep­tion, take a look at the music stand and see if there’s an ipad with The Real Book on it. A lead sheet just gives you the basic idea and assumes you have your own way of play­ing it.
There are a lot of sev­en­ties  jazz tunes in it and a ton of tunes by  the bassist Steve Swal­low, who taught at the Berklee School of Music in Boston in the sev­en­ties. Who­ever wrote the book always gives the orig­i­nal com­poser of the song and gen­er­ally describes, at the bot­tom, the ver­sion they are referencing–at the bot­tom of a page it will typ­i­cally say “Bill Evans, “Vil­lage Van­guard,” or Char­lie Parker, “April in Paris.” In this case, who­ever wrote up this ver­sion of April in Paris was think­ing of the way Char­lie Parker and Thelo­nious Monk played it. And many of the chord changes are wrong in the sense that they aren’t the chords of the song as written.
I inter­viewed a local musi­cian who attended Berklee in the sev­en­ties, and he also said “yeah there’s a bunch of Steve Swal­low tunes in there, one of his stu­dents prob­a­bly put the thing together.” He claimed to have ear­lier ver­sions of The Real Book boxed up in his base­ment, as well as other fake books and three-ring-binder col­lec­tions of tunes that cir­cu­lated among music stu­dents. They were stu­dents, and they wanted both to fund their stud­ies and also to give music stu­dents a bet­ter, more sophis­ti­cated, hip­per set of charts. On the one hand it rep­re­sents the free mar­ket at work: on the other it’s an illicit prod­uct. But April in Paris is “rep­re­sented” by Boosey & Hawkes, which bought the rights to Ver­non Duke’s music in 2008. The jazz tra­di­tion isn’t really about fidelity to the composer’s intent, it’s all about impro­vi­sa­tion.
It sug­gests that it has the “real” chords, the chords cool peo­ple actu­ally play, and that these chords aren’t the same chords the com­poser wrote, or a reduced ver­sion. You can copy­right a melody, and an arrange­ment, that is, the spe­cific instru­ments and har­monies behind a tune. But I do agree with Swal­low that, had some­one approached me 35 years ago about hav­ing my tunes in a new, upcom­ing fake book, I would have gladly said “Yes.” I’m very sure that the ubiq­ui­tous nature of The Real Book has ulti­mately been a ben­e­fit for the col­lec­tive com­posers rep­re­sented. It does not include April in Paris, I assume because Boosey & Hawkes wanted too much money.

It has con­sis­tently the best changes, the right melodies, and proper schol­ar­ity with regards to sources. The point of hav­ing copy­rights expire is to bal­ance the cost of the tax to soci­ety with the ben­e­fits soci­ety receives from the artists. I’m sure that the author of this blog is highly intelligent, witty and even possibly socially competent. A gui­tarist or piano play in a trio might omit the “G,” in that first chord, for exam­ple, and assume the bass player will cover it.
Prob­a­bly “Swal­low, Bur­ton, Carla Bley, Mike Gibbs, Mike Nock and Chick [Corea]” were delighted musi­cians learned and played their tunes, but imag­ine their addi­tional delight if they actu­ally got paid for each copy sold.
B&H was inspired by the Sonny Bon0 copy­right exten­sion act, also known as the Dis­ney Pro­tec­tion Act, which extended copy­right for up to 120 years after pub­li­ca­tion. The Real Book’s chart is like the plot of  Moby Dick, with some of the actual words changed. But if the point of your musi­cal prac­tice is com­men­tary or restate­ment, do you need copy­right? Per­haps hun­dreds of thou­sands of musi­cians have learned, per­formed, and recorded those works that oth­er­wise never would have. This is in agree­ment with com­mon retail prin­ci­ples, that retail markup about dou­bles the manufacturer’s cost. I rarely find bad melodies, chords, or typos in the crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion in any of the Sher Music pub­li­ca­tions, and they sup­ply commonly-used chord subs. Here in Ger­many, we can­not legally play stan­dards even at jam ses­sions with­out prior arrange­ment and fees paid.
Or he or she might play it in a dif­fer­ent reg­is­ter, or with the order of the notes inverted.
In Kernfeld’s book, both Metheny and Swal­low say they think the Real Book did them more good than harm.
If you want to play, you need to make sure a large cor­po­ra­tion which had noth­ing to do with the song’s cre­ation gets paid, for 100 years. They treat the com­po­si­tion as the start­ing point, and so they might alter the melody notes, the tim­ing of the notes, or the chords.
Note that Duke and Har­burg split their half, so each gets 25% unless they agreed to some other pro­por­tion, regard­less of whether the song is played with or with­out the lyrics. Also, all the com­posers (yes, and the pub­lish­ers too!) get their well-deserved cut of the price. The Gema, or copy­right police, will even come after the musi­cians them­selves and demand dev­as­tat­ing fees. And so to buy one you’d have to know some­body who had man­aged to run off a really large bunch of bound pho­to­copies, and because of the ille­gal­ity, and economies of scale, it ended up cost­ing about as much as a legit book would have cost. Once again, there may be two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of a tune (like Satin Doll, for exam­ple) one with lyrics where the lyri­cist gets a cut, and one with­out lyrics where the composer(s) get(s) all the author’s portion.
Beats the pants off the old, inac­cu­rate Real Book, which is respon­si­ble for so many musi­cians of my age play­ing wrong melodies and chords on so many tunes.
I sup­pose it encour­ages cre­ativ­ity, but would Miles Davis or John Coltrane have got to their lev­els of per­fec­tion if they were held to these con­straints? File shar­ing of cur­rent tunes is some­thing I will not defend, but I think jazz musi­cians ought to be able to play a fifty-year-old Ver­non Duke tune in a club with­out risk­ing legal repercussions.

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