Personal Fake Books

Day 336 Week 49 Q4  Friday, December 2, 2022

Personal Fake Books

Fake Books are the very fastest way to capture the essence of a piece of music. Fake books are collections of lead sheets, each containing the minimal information needed by a musician to make an impromptu song arrangement. A lead sheet contains the melody line, basic chords, and lyrics when they exist. In the jazz world, the Real Book has been the main musician’s bible for over fifty years.

Most performing musicians primarily perform works composed by others. Orchestras worldwide continue to play standard great pieces, some of which are hundreds of years old. Jazz ensembles still perform the Great American Songbook. Rock, pop, country, blues, world beat and other musicians continue to make up tunes to perform, which are often not written down. Some of these bands have been performing pieces that are over fifty years old, usually without the benefit of any kind of score or written direction. Certainly, music began long before notation.

The interaction between written and improvised sonic renditions of pieces of music is a wonderful way to not only share music with other musicians to permit ensemble playing but also a way to put music under a microscope and more closely observe its structure. This movement from sonic to visual memorialization additionally enables improvements to perfect performances, making an infinite range of directions possible to perfect and convey.

Lifelong improvising performing musicians render songs in enough ways sometimes to create ambiguity regarding what is the actual piece. A potential way to reduce musical ambiguity is to generate lead sheets comprised of the minimal expression of the work, and copyright offices will happily accept and register these lead sheets as unique expressions of musical authorship. 

One need not write down every single explicit chord voicing, harmonization and bass line, just the minimal information needed by a musician to make an impromptu song arrangement. In fact, the less defined score may not only permit more options but force them, for a literally performed lead sheet would be a serious subdimensional expression of a piece of music and a not-very-engaging performance.  

This makes the lead sheet’s minimal documentation faster to generate and more powerful and less constraining for a strong improviser to render a performance from. For me, a fake book is far more real, emotionally relevant and engaging than any fully more formally documented piece of music because it minimizes the musical and their ability to collaborate with the composer. If you happen to be both the composer and the performing musician, it destroys the essence of jazz because it ruins the ability to even collaborate with yourself, which is the most joyous act a creative outlier can engage in.

Just sayin’