I am a jazz scholar and musician. A native of San Francisco, I came east in 1975 to enter graduate school at Cornell University, where to my delight I discovered a traditionally oriented faculty willing to give enthusiastic support to musicological research on jazz. In mid-1981 I gained the Ph.d. in musicology for a study of techniques of improvisation in Miles Davis's sextet with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. Thereafter I spent two decades as a freelance contributor to reference works, most notably as the editor of The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (London: Macmillan, 1988; 2nd. ed. 2001), which has become the standard general reference source in the field, and as the author of What to Listen for in Jazz (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), a highly successful book which endeavors to describe essential musical concepts and procedures underlying the process of making jazz, regardless of style. My second, intermittent career as a local professional jazz saxophonist became increasingly important from the mid-1990s onwards. While playing, and wondering about the history of the bootleg jazz fake books (anthologies of jazz tunes, notated in a shorthand form) that nearly every jazz musician uses, I found my way toward a project that took on a life of its own and pushed my research into the realms of pop music and the law. I had the honor of being invited to speak, mainly on topics stemming from the fake books project, at international jazz conferences in Jyväskylä, Finland (1999, 2003), Prague (2000), and Leeds, England (2001), and at a copyright convention in Washington, DC (2003). A case study, The Story of Fake Books: Bootlegging Songs to Musicians, published by Scarecrow in 2006, led to a general history, Pop Song Piracy: Disobedient Music Distribution since 1929 (University of Chicago Press, 2011). It won the 2012 Association for Recorded Sound Collections award for "best history" in the category "best research in recorded rock or popular music."

From late 2004 into 2005 I served as a consultant for a jazz auction held by Guernsey's. The most notable objects, Impulse! Records tape reels by John Coltrane, including the lost version of A Love Supreme, were pulled from the auction in a legal dispute, but I published a catalogue and description of this music in the Belgian discographical journal Names and Numbers (2005) (see the Abstracts and Papers link). From 2005 to 2012 I transcribed and edited for the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Program; these lengthy interviews are posted on the institution's website. In that last year I drew from this material to teach a writing course, "American Jazz Masters in the Own Words," at Penn State. Currently from 2005 I took a partial break from music and held a half-time appointment as staff archivist in the Historical Collections and Labor Archives within the Special Collections Library at Penn State. Upon quitting the Archives early in 2014, I reactivated my longstanding association as a contributor to American National Biography, and in 2015 I was appointed the ANB advisory editor for the field of popular music. In the past decade I have been increasingly involved in musical theater bands and orchestras rather than jazz groups; I performed on stage in costume in August 2012 as the clarinetist in "Fiddler on the Roof." (posted December 2015).

A Note from "B," Co-author of The Real Book

On Sat, Jul 10, 2010, 11:20 AM, {"B"} wrote:


I read with great interest your book, "The Story of Fake Books," and being identified as "B," I'd like to make a few comments and corrections, and I can be confident that my sentiments reflect those of "C" as well. First of all, I applaud your sensitive and informed (as best as it could be) approach to what has become a world-wide phenomenon. As Pat Metheny stated, no one in their wildest imagination ever thought that the book would have the influence and recognition that it did. For all its faults, I am proud of The Real Book's impact on jazz and the access to quality material it gave to countless musicians around the world. I've heard of Real Book parties, clubs that feature a Real Book Night, and school improv classes for which The RB is a prerequisite. Even the logo, which I hand-cut and silkscreened, is emblazoned on most legal imitator books.

The book was not conceived to finance our education. It was first and foremost an attempt to reinvent the concept of what a fake book was, to raise the bar for all such books to come. We both had been raised on really bad fake books that were illegible, inaccurate, useless, outdated, etc. One book I had in college contained the French National Anthem--hardly a jazz standard, you must concede. I owned about four books that were photo copies of photo copies many times over, and some tunes were barely legible. Again, our main concern was to produce something of high quality with a unique selection of tunes pertinent to the time. Knowing and having contacts to many famous jazz recording artists (Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Paul Bley, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Steve Swallow, etc.), we had access to first-hand material that enabled us to create an important and very useful collection of tunes. Yes, we knew that we had something unique, but not one of us involved ever imagined the book's incredible longevity. I can't tell you how many times that I've been at a wedding, in a lounge, or at a private party where the musicians were playing from it.

The Real Book was featured in the New York Times and in Esquire Magazine, as stated in Wikipedia, although both articles have errors in their accounts of the book's origins and dates. You, through your sleuthing, came the closest, which is really the summer of 1975. Having picked up the initial copies from the printer and simply walking into the Berklee lobby, all hell broke loose, and the runaway success began. It was snapped up as soon as it hit the streets, and we couldn't sell them fast enough. A sailor from Russia bought a few copies and took them back home, and thanks to Berklee's international student body, the book quickly spread around the world.

There were, however, only three editions produced by us. We originally intended to put out just one edition, but the last two were only validated by the number of corrections that came to us to warrant reissues. We never were concerned about staying ahead of bootleggers, of which their numbers were legion. It was never about the money--it was about the music. The extent of the care we put into the project, from going through bins and bins of albums at record stores to find composers' names and multiple recording sources to having it proofread by a great number of qualified people, including Swallow, Metheny, Herb Pomeroy, and Wes Hensel, was a testament to our insistence on putting out the best book we possibly could. A combination of human errors and sometimes poor sources caused the mistakes the book has been so derided for. Editions #2 and #3 were an attempt to improve our original product, not to "stay ahead of the bootleggers." We knew we could have made a pile of money had we continued, but we weren't in the business of selling fake books -- we were headed for careers as musicians -- and we were definitely concerned of the legal ramifications. I do know of one particular bootlegger who snapped up our new editions as fast as they came out and then headed straight to a copy store. I hear that he continued on long after we had left Boston, and he subsequently bought a nice house on Long Island with Real Book money.

An initial attempt was made to legitimize the book, and we had meetings with two copyright experts we knew in Boston. It was determined that we would have to pay royalties of about ten cents per tune per book, which would have been about $48.00 per book--a prohibitive amount, considering that we hoped to sell it for $30.00. A large publishing company such as Hal Leonard has the clout and resources to make blanket deals with blocks of tunes, something far beyond our abilities at the time. We WERE very concerned with recompensing the composers in the early stages. After realizing that legitimate sales would be impossible, the best we could hope for was enhanced exposure to the composers' music by which musicians might record those tunes, resulting in the Butterfly Effect of even further exposure and royalties. It seems that that has happened in spades.

I am a composer myself, and I fully appreciate copyright protection. 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. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of musicians have learned, performed, and recorded those works that otherwise never would have.




To: {"B"}

Sent: Sat, July 10, 2010, 11:05:07 AM

Subject: Re: The Real Book

Dear {"B"},

Thanks so much for your note. Absolutely fascinating. I am delighted that you wrote to me. Would you object if sometime I had an opportunity to publish your corrections (while keeping your name anonymous, of course)?

I am just now finishing a much larger project, in which jazz fake books play only a small, tangential role. The book is titled Pop Music Piracy since 1929: Songs, Distribution, and Disobedience.

I shared your experience in the 1970s, being an aspiring jazz saxophonist handicapped by the absence of a merely decent fake book, and I was so grateful for the appearance of The Real Book, which was 1,000 times better than merely decent. The people who put it down for having mistakes have NO IDEA what sort of musical vacuum you were operating in, and how well you filled it.

best regards,



You are very welcome, and thanks for your comments. Sure, you can use anything I send to you.

It's funny how people react sometimes. I was working as an arranger with a trumpet player about 15 years ago on a show that was going to Monte Carlo, and when he learned that I had written The Real Book, suddenly it was as though he was in the presence of God. Even though we were in a panic mode trying to get the job done, all work came to a complete halt while he grilled me all about it.

Another thing about the mistakes... it was very distressing for us to learn of them. We had worked so hard to minimize errata, but obviously the job was much bigger than we could handle, in that department. In the end, everyone who purchased a book was a potential "proofreader" of sorts, and we gathered as much feedback as we could.

A bit of trivia... it's true about the naming of the book according to Wikipedia. There was a street paper in the Seventies out of Cambridge called the Real Paper, and then of course we purposefully used "Real" to create another level of book beyond "Fake." In fact, I've heard the term used to describe something superlative, as in "That was a Real Book meal!"

Also, the first edition had a white binding, as opposed to black for editions two and three. If you can find a book with the white, then you've a Real collector's item.

Be well,