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 their 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 2016 I came upon a great Ornette Coleman story (posted below).

From 2004 onwards I became increasingly involved in musical theater bands and orchestras rather than jazz performance; I was on stage in costume in August 2012 as the clarinetist in "Fiddler on the Roof." But by 2016 the local scene had changed. My days as a performer seem to be more or less over. Sally and I retired in 2014. We have spent substantial periods in the greater Boston area, where our sons live and work, and since November 2016 I have been the volunteer archivist for Historic Beverly. (posted June 2017).

Since April 2020 Howard Rye (in London) and I have been working on the 20-year update to the jazz dictionary, as a component of Oxford Music Online.

Ornette Coleman’s New Vocabulary: the Back Story

by Barry Kernfeld (posted June 2017)

Throughout his career – from his pioneering Free Jazz double quartet, to his dissonant experiments on instruments other than alto sax, to his symphonic compositions, to his avant-garde/fusion band Prime Time – Ornette Coleman​ followed his personal muse, opening up new paths as he did what he always thought was the right thing to do. On his last studio album, New Vocabulary, Coleman shifted gears yet again. The story of this album shows just how difficult it can be to pursue freedom and personal choice in the music business.

Late in December 2014, System Dialing Records issued New Vocabulary. This CD was a collaboration between Coleman and the label’s founders: Jordan McLean on trumpet and electronics, and Amir Ziv on drums; Adam Holzman played piano on three tracks. Reviews were great, most notably with Kevin Whitehead lauding New Vocabulary on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and playing sound bites from half a dozen tracks.

Then, from mid-May through early June – Coleman died June 11, 2015 – the internet was abuzz with scandal: Coleman’s son, drummer Denardo Coleman, filed a lawsuit against McLean, Ziv, and System Dialing, claiming that the music came from jam sessions, these were Ornette’s students, not colleagues, and they had no right to issue the CD. The family’s lawyers claimed violations of the Anti-Bootlegging Act. They also accused the two men of violations of the Lanham Trademark Act: unfair competition, false advertising, and deceptive business practice (Coleman lawsuit: complaint). Suddenly McLean and Ziv were pariahs on the New York jazz scene.

The truth turns out to be otherwise, and the story, remarkable. It began like this:

Jordan McLean was playing trumpet and serving as associate music director for the off-Broadway musical FELA! when Ornette Coleman came to see the show in September of 2008. Coleman had known Fela Kuti’s manager, Rikki Stein, ever since they collaborated on Coleman’s album Dancing in Your Head in Joujouka, Morocco, at the beginning of 1973. In the lobby, Stein introduced McLean to Coleman, the two hit it off, and Coleman invited McLean over to his loft on West 36th Street.

Coleman often invited people to visit, and McLean continued to come, many times. They would talk about life, and they would jam informally, just the two of them, or with others as well. Coleman had a glass-encased studio in the loft, with an electronic keyboard and a drum set on site. (His blue drums can be seen at the right edge of illustration 1.) Sometimes McLean played keyboard, splitting it to yield a synthesized sound in the right hand and a bass line in the left, the lower timbre modeled, as McLean describes it, after the sound of Charlie Haden, the double bassist in Coleman’s pioneering quartet. At other times, either man might play trumpet, Coleman on his most radical albums of the mid- to late 1960s having added both trumpet and violin to his renowned work on alto sax.

Illustration 1: Coleman standing between his pool table and his studio, October 4, 2011. Photograph by Jordan McLean, from his cellphone.

Born in 1974, Jordan McLean took up piano at age six and trumpet at age 10. He made his name in the Afro-beat realm, touring worldwide with the band Antibalas from 1998 onwards and working in FELA! from 2006. But before that, he gained a degree in contemporary classical composition from SUNY Purchase, and he brought something of that musical sensibility into the jam sessions at Coleman’s studio. McLean felt completely at ease at these sessions. Coleman made it clear that McLean was welcome to do whatever he wanted. “Be yourself” was Coleman’s mantra, and not just with the music. Coleman loved having people around to socialize with, whether discoursing on heavy topics, or joking around and relating casually. He once told McLean, “You can be free to do whatever you want here, as long as you’re not hurting anyone.”

In the summer of 2008 McLean started to bring Amir Ziv over to Coleman’s loft on a regular basis, with Coleman’s encouragement (illustration 2). Three years older than McLean – both men were more than 40 years younger than Coleman – Ziv was born in Tel Aviv and raised in Rishon Le Zion, Israel, but he made numerous trips to the U.S. with his family. He moved to Los Angeles in 1991 and to New York in 1993 to study drums. After graduating from the New School in 1997, he joined the New School faculty the following year. Ziv gigged, toured, and recorded extensively, including work as co-leader with McLean of the band Droid (not to be confused with the heavy metal band of the same name), a quartet that played a live electronica brand of electro-acoustic music. Like McLean, Ziv also gained musical literacy in the contemporary classical realm.

Illustration 2: Amir Ziv and Ornette Coleman outside of Coleman’s home, July 19, 2009. Photograph by McLean, from his cellphone.

If McLean was at ease in this situation, Ziv initially was not. At the first two or three visits, other musicians were there, and the environment had the flavor of a traditional jam session, with instrumentalists sitting around, waiting for their turn to play. A saxophonist was stressing out, trying to remember Coleman’s tunes. As Ziv sat behind the drums, he felt awkward. Despite extensive grounding in jazz, he didn’t know Coleman’s work. Stepping outside, in one of his first one-on-one moments with Coleman, Ziv told Coleman how ill at ease he was, not knowing that repertory. Coleman replied, “That’s real good and how I prefer it, because I don’t have experience playing any of your work either. It means we are on equal ground, and we can now get to work on making real jazz.”  This statement opened the gateway for Ziv. Now he could play, and chat, without feeling intimidated. In fact, at these informal sessions, Coleman exhibited no interest whatsoever in jamming on famous pieces from his recorded legacy. Instead, they were searching, improvising, making sound.

Some people would have been paralyzed by that situation, too intimidated in the presence of greatness to let themselves participate, but Ziv was intrigued. At first he mainly just listened, trying to figure out where Coleman was coming from, but Coleman reeled him in, asking, “What do you think?”, “What do you think?”, and thereby transforming pronouncements into conversation. McLean and Ziv became engaged in talking about humanity, physics, and metaphysics, topics that Coleman would revisit over and over again, teasing out ideas. Sometimes Coleman’s thoughts followed cryptic paths. At one point they were ruminating about God’s gender, and he asked, “Do you think gold is God’s sex?” Hence the title of the final track on New Vocabulary, “Gold is God’s Sex.” At other times, Coleman spoke simply, straight from the heart: “You can’t kill life, you can only die. So it doesn’t do good to try and do bad, because if you do good, it’s yours, but if you do bad, they never let you forget.”

One day Coleman asked McLean and Ziv to stay while others were leaving. The loft cleared. They got back into the studio and for the first time played together as a trio. Coleman invited them back, and then back again. Within two or three sessions, Coleman made it clear that these were no longer jam sessions, but rehearsals. They were reworking material, editing, adding, shaping. At first, McLean had just been showing up and using Coleman’s keyboard, but now, with Coleman’s encouragement, McLean brought in his own rig, a pedal board with a half dozen electronic processors through which he ran his trumpet. (Just as a hip-hop deejay manipulates a turntable in real time as if it were a percussion instrument, so McLean uses his pedal board to manipulate his trumpet playing, designing textures in real time.) They were establishing musical communication, Ziv and McLean having already developed aspects of that language in their prior experiences together, and Coleman immediately showing an interest in contributing.

Next, they asked Coleman’s permission to bring in a mini-disc recorder, so the three could sit down together and listen, to see how they were doing. At this point, there was no conversation about a future album. The premise was self-evaluation. Coleman liked the idea and gave his approval. They recorded from the fall of 2008 into the spring of 2009. Music emerged in segments separated by conversation. There were no written instructions or notated pieces.  Instead they created an aural vocabulary of improvised modules and a methodology of through-composed improvisation. Each module maintained a mood and texture, and each acquired a theme that meshed well with that “feel.” At the time, McLean felt that the main indicator of Coleman’s preferences resided in his repeatedly asking, “Are you free of the tonic?” (more on that below).

After each session at Coleman’s loft, Ziv and McLean would edit a mini-disc session, preserving only the best parts. They would burn a CD to bring to Coleman on the next visit, or the three men simply sat down together in the studio and listened through a cellphone speaker. Through these mini-disc recordings they learned which modules worked best, they learned how to go through 20 or 30 different transitions from one module to another, and they learned to make the transitions smoothly at the drop of a hat. They rehearsed beginnings, transitions, and endings, as Coleman sought out one line of energy across each piece. Because the modules could be assembled in multiple ways, the trio rarely repeated a take, a tune, a song, or whatever the resulting piece might be called. This was also how Coleman played saxophone. He would practice an improvisation over and over and over again, until improvisation became flexible compositional variation. Working towards this end, Coleman did not utilize traditional musical notation, but he did have his own notational system. McLean recalls Coleman practicing endlessly from full-page notebooks in which he had written patterns of note names, organized into grids. (For a comprehensive explanation of this methodology and personal musical system, see Stephen Rush’s book Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman, 2016.)

What existed on the mini-discs were the embryos of the as-yet-unimagined New Vocabulary album. These were musical moments that they later revisited, embellished, smoothed out, and transformed into finished pieces. They would repeat concepts and particular orchestrations, but never referenced any of these segments specifically in later making the CD.

One day Coleman stopped in the midst of playing and said, “This is the band, and we’re going to make a record together.” This was an unsolicited declaration, nothing that they ever planned or hoped for. They asked him to clarify. “Wait a minute. What are you talking about, Ornette? You have a band.” He replied that “I have not been able to make the music I want.” Ziv asked, “Do you mean for us to be the band on the next Ornette album?” “No,” he virtually shouted. “This is our band. This will be our record. You guys are speaking a new vocabulary, and you’re masters of it.”

Initially, McLean and Ziv thought, this is wonderful talk, but impossible to believe. They told Coleman how incredibly honored they were, that he would even suggest such a thing, and they asked again about his band. Coleman’s answer shed considerable light on his frame of mind: “I only see these guys when we have gigs.”

While recording together in a duo that was informed by jazz, electronic music, and contemporary classical music, McLean and Ziv founded a new label, Sound Chemistry Records (which would take a new name, System Dialing Records, later, in 2010). They told Coleman about these recordings and their state-of-the-art equipment. They brought in discs to let him hear the quality of the recorded sound. Coleman said, “This is what I want to do. This is the music I want to make, I want to make it with you, and you guys should put it out.” They set dates and agreed to bring their mobile recording studio into Coleman’s loft with the goal of creating a studio album for release.

It’s unclear exactly at what point Coleman’s son Denardo – the drummer in Ornette’s regular band – got wind of this evolving project, but by the time of the first formal recording session on July 18, 2009, resistance was underway. Why wasn’t his father recording with his own band? The resistance took concrete shape that day in a crafty moment of attempted sabotage; whether it was initiated by Denardo or someone else in Coleman’s immediate circle, is unknown. That resistance would climax, just short of six years later, in Denardo’s lawsuit.

The tune titles on New Vocabulary derive from conversations, and serendipity, without intending any specific programmatic relationship to the music. Track 5, “If It Takes a Hatchet,” refers to that moment of attempted sabotage. Upon arriving at the loft with their recording equipment, McLean and Ziv found the studio locked, and both sets of keys missing. As the three men searched the loft, McLean discovered an electronic keyfinder and then heard a beep from behind a locked solid oak closet door. Evidently someone was trying to control Coleman by preventing access to the recording venue. But Coleman said, “Boys, if it takes a hatchet, we’re getting that door off.” The next moment he was on his knees, banging the pins out of the hinges with a screwdriver and a hammer, and sure enough, two sets of studio keys were in the closet. Coleman took one set of keys, handed it to McLean and Ziv, and said, “We don’t want this to happen again.”

They recorded for three days, from July 18–20, 2009. Coleman at age 79 was still vigorous. He helped to move the portable recording equipment in and out of the studio, and he was ready to work hard from 10am onward each day. He managed to keep people away, so that the trio could focus; he would answer the phone, but didn’t allow anyone to come over and interrupt their playing. On day two, while taking a break, Coleman put his hand on Ziv’s arm and said, “You guys are the vehicle for getting this music out there.” Coleman was elated. Ziv was in a quiet internal panic, thinking about the responsibility implied by that statement. Eight of the dozen tracks on New Vocabulary were recorded more or less “as is” on those three days, apart from minor post-recording cleanup in their System Dialing studio.

After the sessions were done, McLean and Ziv floated another idea. They brought in recordings to demonstrate their use of the studio as an instrument: multi-tracking, overdubbing, editing, sound-shaping, and so forth, whatever may be done to modify existing recordings. On track 7, “Population” (as it came to be called, later), they proposed to combine material from their duo sessions with material from the trio sessions. On three other tracks, they would meld the duo and trio sessions while also adding their colleague Adam Holzman on grand piano. (Holzman played electronic keyboards in their band, Droid.) Coleman liked the plan.

On March 28, 2010, Holzman came to Oktaven Audio in Yonkers to improvise to the pre-existing tracks. Then McLean and Ziv began to edit. Coleman loved most of the results. In a few places where his enthusiasm was lukewarm, they made further revisions. Each time they returned to gauge his response, until they reached a unanimous thumbs up.

The three men had developed a relationship as both friends and musical collaborators. They played a lot of pool (illustration 3) and ate kosher food at Ben’s on West 38th Street. They continued to play music together, and they listened to the recordings they were working on. They decided to release this music as a collaborative work. Coleman approved of all of the tracks in their final form. To button everything up, Coleman, McLean, and Ziv signed a written contract on November 28, 2011, confirming their mutual approval of the recordings, Coleman’s approval of the release, and his agreement to use their label, System Dialing. The album title, New Vocabulary, came from Coleman’s own comment on their musical methods, quoted earlier.

Illustration 3: Jordan McLean with Ornette Coleman at Coleman’s home, October 4, 2011. Photograph by McLean, from his cellphone.

Meanwhile McLean and Ziv had repeatedly approached Denardo in an effort to get at least his understanding, if not his blessing or even his partnership. But every aspect of their relationship with Ornette that they described, Denardo denied. There was a gulf between their agreements with Ornette, and what they were hearing from Ornette’s son.

New Vocabulary came out to many handsome reviews at the beginning of 2015. To my ear, the album manages to be both highly creative and serene, two musical qualities that are often incompatible. As I mentioned earlier, when their jam sessions began in 2008, McLean felt that the main indicator of Coleman’s preference resided in his repeatedly asking, “Are you free of the tonic?” As it turns out, were that question to be taken literally, the answer in the end would be, “No.” New Vocabulary presents a hefty dose of unambiguously tonal music on which Coleman himself takes the lead in providing accessibility by sticking to conventional major scales as he crafts his melodic lines. Although track 2, “Sound Chemistry,” starts out as one of the more dissonant pieces on the album, even here Coleman reorients his playing toward a major key, and at a minute and forty seconds in, he plays a little melodic snippet that might be construed as a quotation from the “Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat” or “Wichita Lineman.” This is not to say that Coleman is actually quoting Frédéric Chopin or Jim Webb, but rather that tonal music has a common language in which Coleman participates, and coincidences occur. Less often on New Vocabulary Coleman plays in a blues tonality, rather than a major key; on track 10, “H2O,” this simply means that he lowers the third step of the scale, favoring D-flat rather than D in the key of B-flat.

On several tracks Ziv’s pitched drums, rather than McLean’s trumpeting, reinforce Coleman’s sense of tonality. Ziv recalled that as their sessions progressed, he brought in new drum heads for the kit at Coleman’s studio and spent considerable time tuning them optimally. Coleman watched and listened, all in approval, and they talked about sound. Ziv’s drum tuning aimed for maximum resonance, not a particular set of pitches, and he says that he did not consciously tune to Coleman’s scales. But it seems (or sounds, I should say) self-evident that Coleman chose to play in sync with drones emanating from the drums, because there are simply too many concordances for this to be merely coincidental. The most obvious example is on track 4, “Bleeding,” where Coleman plays in the key of B-flat while a lower-pitched drum rumbles away on the dominant (F, the fifth note of the B-flat scale).

On the opening track, “Baby Food,” Coleman’s alto sax and McLean’s trumpet work together to reinforce that prevailing tonality, perhaps as a way of easing listeners into the album. Elsewhere you can hear a tonal push and pull between the two men on, for example, “Alphabet,” “Wife Life,” and “H2O,” where Coleman grounds the music in a tonal center while McLean destabilizes it; or on “Bleeding” and “If It Takes a Hatchet,” where McLean reiterates a single dissonance. This is one way in which McLean’s grounding in contemporary classical music manifests itself in the final product.

So the question that Coleman repeatedly posed to McLean – “Are you free of the tonic?” – was instead meant to be taken metaphorically. In the 1974 book Free Jazz, still the finest musicological explanation of the movement that Coleman founded, Ekkehard Jost wrote that the essential notion was not a freedom to do anything, but a freedom from preexisting conceptions. Avant-garde jazz musicians were not in search of unrestricted chaos and noise. Or, as Coleman put it while talking to McLean and Ziv, “Even if it’s invisible, there is still a form.” Instead, free jazz musicians sought to discard conventional agreements that effectively put a straightjacket around musical expression. So for Coleman, “the tonic” was a metaphor for formulaic jazz performance methods, established jazz song and blues forms, and now, in this new setting, even his own pre-existing jazz compositions. For Coleman, to be free of the tonic – to be free from the tonic – was to seek out a fresh way to interact, a new vocabulary.

The goodwill engendered by the release of New Vocabulary evaporated in mid-2015 with Denardo Coleman’s lawsuit. McLean and Ziv felt that they had been unjustly slammed, but they were obliged to keep silent while the suit worked its way through United States District Court, the Southern District of New York. Their lawyer filed an initial answer to the lawsuit on July 2, 2015 (Coleman lawsuit: legal answer). On October 27, 2015, he filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the contract provides for arbitration, in the event of a dispute, and the case should not have gone to federal court. Denardo Coleman’s attorneys countered that his father lacked the capacity to enter into the agreement and did not sign it.

On May 13, 2016, the defendants renewed their motion to dismiss the case or compel arbitration. On June 17, judge Denise Cote agreed. She rejected  the plaintiff’s various objections: that there was no contract, that Ornette’s signature was inauthentic, and (once his signature was authenticated), that the contract was indefinite in an unenforceable way, or lacking in mutual agreement (Coleman lawsuit: judge's opinion). Having confirmed the contract’s validity and enforceability, Judge Cote then ordered that the action be stayed, pending arbitration proceedings (Coleman lawsuit: judge's order). If arbitration had not commenced within 30 days, the defendants could apply for further relief. Those 30 days are long passed, and Denardo’s lawyers have taken no further action. So McLean and Ziv’s story may now be told, without any potential damage to their legal standing.

[update: On July 11, 2017, Judge Cote dismissed the case with prejudice: "with prejudice" is a final judgment, and Denardo may not bring a new suit on this matter (Coleman lawsuit: dismissal).]

There’s one last thing to mention about the title of track 1, “Baby Food.” Around 2010 Coleman got a pool table. McLean and Ziv recall Coleman as a formidable pool player, accurate but gentle. He would hit the cue ball softly, and as the target ball was rolling slowing into the pocket, he would already be turned around, walking towards the kitchen and saying, “That went down just like baby food.”

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,