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Gearhead: Let’s Get Real

With several inspired new Real Book volumes, the Hal Leonard brand furthers the evolution of the jazz-education bible 

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Photo of Bebop Real Book
The Real Bebop Book

For decades, The Real Book was the jazz musician’s favorite piece of contraband (well, it was at least top-five) and a fascinating tale of perseverance in the face of intellectual-property law. Songbook publisher Hal Leonard, who launched its official, legally sound version in 2004, wasn’t the first company to attempt to legitimize The Real Book, previously sold only upon request from below the counter at music shops and via word of mouth. Many great players continue to stand by Sher Music Co.’s earlier The New Real Book and The Standards Real Book. But while Sher’s volumes, with regard to song list, typefaces and added reharmonizations, are their own brilliant beast, Hal Leonard seemed to want mostly to right the wrongs of the bootlegs. Copyright deals were struck, corrections were inputted and engraving was made clean and strong, all while retaining the familiar vibe of those scrappy, beloved, coffee-stained tomes. Even more impressive has been the brand’s Real Book program over the past decade, with editions dedicated to individual composers as well as to styles in and out of jazz. And Hal Leonard has found savvy ways for online technology to complement the utilitarian splendor of an old-school lead sheet.

Photo of Pat Metheny Real Book
The Pat Metheny Real Book

Among the most recent variations is The Pat Metheny Real Book (C Edition: $24.99, 270 p.), Hal Leonard’s first Artist Edition Real Book, “compiled and gig-tested by the composer.” You could hardly come up with a living jazzer better suited for an undertaking of this sort. Here are 147 of the guitarist’s indelible melodies, delivered with the streamlined, gig-friendly practicality The Real Book was founded on. (Warning: This isn’t one of those tab-along record-rip transcription books.) “[T]his is a selection of tunes that seem to lend themselves to getting played the most,” Metheny writes in his passionate, insightful introduction. “In almost every case, I was able to get them down to just a few pages with all the essential information needed to make them happen at a jam session or at a gig.” That intro—a deftly crafted essay, really—also allows Metheny to detail his involvement in The Real Book’s origin story of how “one of my best guitar students and one of Gary [Burton’s] best vibraphone students had a great idea.” The enterprising pupils, their identities protected to this day, wanted a real fake book that would better serve the heady Boston and Berklee scene of the mid-1970s. Hence The Real Book’s mix of standards, hip jazz tunes and music by Berklee personnel like Metheny, Burton, Steve Swallow and their contemporaries.

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