Apr 28, 2011

Review: "The Story of Fake Books" and the "6th Edition Real Book"

I just finished reading The Story of Fake Books: Bootlegging Songs to Musicians, by Barry Kernfeld. For anyone who has wondered about the history of these essential but often-illegal publications, this book will be a fun read. In this post I’ll do a short review of this book, combined with a review of the Hal Leonard Sixth Edition Real Book, which is probably the fake book currently most-used by jazz students. 
Kernfeld’s book traces the production of fake books beginning with the “Tune-Dex” cards that were produced from 1942 until 1963. Tune-Dex was a service that would provide subscribers with 100 tunes per month, printed on 3” x 5” index cards, with a lead sheet (melody and chord symbols) on one side, copyright info on the other side. Interestingly, this service was legal, approved by the original publishers. Within a few years, bootleg collections of Tune-Dex cards were being marketed "under the table," three Tune-Dex charts printed on each page. Kernfeld describes the appearance of these and subsequent fake books, including the original bootleg "Real Book," up through the legal versions currently available.
“The Story of Fake Books” includes chapters on Tune-Dex, bootlegs created from Tune-Dex, the invention of chord symbols, FBI cases against fake book sellers (some good stories here, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act), legit fake books, and the making of the Real Book by Berklee students in 1975. The book is well-written, and entertaining.
Kernfeld takes music publishers to task for misreading the direction of the print music industry for about 40 years - a huge business miscalculation. I have to agree with him. 
I’m old enough to remember the crummy illegal fake books that we had when I was beginning to study jazz. Those books, plus recordings by jazz artists, were just about all we had to work with. We were thrilled when the original bootleg "Real Book" came out. Great calligraphy, well-chosen tunes, comparatively correct changes - it became the standard reference work for a generation or two of jazz players. We were also thrilled when Sher Music, an “indie” publisher, came out with the legal New Real Book in 1985. It didn’t replace the old RB, but augmented it. Chuck Sher’s products are well-researched and well-produced (there are now “New Real Books” volumes one, two, and three; a “Latin RB”;  a "Standards RB” and more).
The market for well-conceived fake books was obviously quite large, but the major publishers just did not pick up on it. Hal Leonard did produce some fairly useful collections (e.g., “The Ultimate Fake Book”). Unfortunately, these fell short in readability, selection, and accuracy, and did not supplant the original RB.
The Hal Leonard “Real Book: Sixth Edition” (2004) was the first effort by a major publisher that came close to filling musicians’ needs. Ironically, it was given the “look and feel” of the original bootleg RB: a nearly identical tune selection, a music font that mimics the old RB calligraphy, the same logo on the home-made-looking cover, a typewriter print font for the table of contents, and the same plastic comb binding that opens nicely on a music stand. It’s a tribute to the vision of the original bootleg authors that HL felt it needed to follow the old RB format so closely. 

Here’s what is right with the Hal Leonard "Sixth Edition Real Book" : (1.) Many tunes are presented in improved versions, notably tunes by Monk, Mingus, Shorter; (2.) The lead sheets are as readable as those in the old RB; (3.) The book is legal, with royalties paid to the copyright holders (personally, I really do believe in the principle of copyright).
Here’s what is wrong with it: (1.) A number of important tunes from the old RB were omitted; (2.) There are a number of errors and typos - questionable chords, wrong notes. It seems to me that the world’s biggest print music publisher should have tried just a little harder, given that they were recreating an important reference work. And HLRB 1 does seem to have become a new standard reference, due to Hal Leonard’s wide distribution and a price point lower than the bootleg.
Many musicians were disappointed by the omission of some tunes that are basic to the jazz repertoire (e.g., “Alone Together,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Just Friends,” “Night and Day,” “On Green Dolphin Street,” “What is This Thing Called Love”). I emailed a source at Hal Leonard, who explained in his reply why those songs were left out: “Sometimes the owner couldn't be located, or just never responded.  In one case, the writer felt that the Real Book would compete with his own publications of his work.  In some, the publisher didn't feel the small amount of money involved was worth it.  The rate wasn't an issue, since print royalty rates are fairly standard among the major print publishers.”
Around 100 tunes were omitted from this edition, and somewhat fewer than that were added. Altogether, there are about 20 tunes that I think absolutely should have been included; the others, I don’t miss. Of the additions, only 10 or so seem at all useful to me.

The old bootleg RBs eventually included a “Volume 2” and “Volume 3,” produced by other unknown pirates. Hal Leonard has redone these also.

In December 2010, Hal Leonard released a Real Book Volume 4 (see this post for a review). Unlike the first 3 volumes, Volume 4 is not a replication of a bootleg book. It includes some of the important tunes that were missing from HLRB 1 (“Days of Wine and Roses,” “Just Friends,” “Night and Day,” “On Green Dolphin Street”), as well as some other welcome additions (like a good chart for “Summertime”). 
Nevertheless, I am hoping for a new “7th Edition,” of HLRB 1, and updates also for Volumes 2 and 3. I’d hope for some really meticulous proofreading, and reconsideration of some chords. 
Digital (.pdf) copies of both legal and illegal fake books have been circulating since around 2004. There’s one DVD being passed around that has something like 30 books on it. Obviously, this presents a threat to music publishers. Here in Silicon Valley (and I’m sure elsewhere), iPads are showing up on music stands at gigs. After all, why carry a stack of fake books around with you? The imperative of basic utility is precisely why illegal fake books were produced and widely used, in the first place.
When everyone is playing from an iPad, with 40 legal and illegal collections on their device, the missing tunes in HLRB 1 won’t matter anymore. Mistakes in melody and chords will still be an issue, though.
Hal Leonard has released Kindle versions of their RBs; a free app from Amazon makes them usable on iPads. I haven’t seen legal digital versions of the Sher books yet, but that company really needs to release them - soon.
I’m holding off on an iPad until it comes with a bigger display, so that you can see two pages at a time. In the meantime I’ll try to memorize some more tunes. Call me old fashioned.
Incidentally, it seems that HLRB 1 is not actually a “6th Edition.” One of the authors of the old RB says that they produced only three versions. I suspect that somewhere along the line, a subsequent bootlegger put “Fifth Edition” on his batch, just because it looked good.

Apr 23, 2011

Hangar One

This morning, as on most Saturdays, I drove down to Moffett Field, for the jazz combo class that I coach there. We meet at the old Navy Rec Hall, a building a few hundred yards south of Hangar One. Hangar One, if you don't know it, is a huge structure built in 1932 to house a Navy dirigible, the USS Macon. The Macon is long gone, but Hangar One is still there, a unique local landmark. Recently it was found to be leaking PCBs into the ground, and the decision was made to remove its skin. NASA, which now runs Moffett, is trying to find funding to restore it.

Here's a picture. If you look closely, you can see the size of the people lined up at the entrance.

Anyway, this reminded me of a big band gig I played a few years ago, inside Hangar One. I can't recall which band this was - if you were on this gig, please refresh my memory.

We were hired to play for a reception the night before the opening of an air show. They put us on a stage right in the middle of the hangar. Hangar One is truly huge - 1,133 feet long, and 308 feet wide. The floor is concrete. This adds up to the most horrible acoustics that a musician could imagine. 

At 68 degrees F., sound travels at 1128 feet/second. Thus, the music played by a big band in the middle of Hangar One will reflect off the far walls and back with a delay of about one second, and reflect off the side walls with a delay of about 1/3 of a second. The far wall is actually curved, and there are of course all sorts of secondary reflections, with various long delays. It was an incredible cacophany. We couldn't hear ourselves play. There was not much we could do except to play as loudly as possible, so we could at least hear the sounds coming out of our own instruments. The band didn't have much finesse that night.

The process of disassembling the hangar began this week. When they finally get the hangar restored, I'm sure they'll have an opening ceremony. Maybe I'll get lucky and be on the gig.

Apr 15, 2011

Eddy Flenner

A few reminiscences about Eddy Flenner, my first real jazz teacher - As far as I know, he was the “go-to guy" for saxophone lessons in Portland, Oregon, from approximately the 1940s through the 1970s. I was a music major at Portland State University in the early ‘70s, and the department sent me to Eddy for lessons. At my first lesson, Eddy asked me what I’d like to work on. I replied that I’d only had classical lessons up until then, so I’d like to work on improvising. Eddy said, “So, Peter, what do you think a jazz player needs to know?” I fished around for an answer for a few minutes. Then Eddy said, “Chords and scales, Peter. Chords and scales.” Eddy could get right to the point.
Another memorable succinct quote of his from an early improv lesson: “Don’t play the root.”
Sometimes I’d show up for a lesson, and Eddy would give me a dollar and say, “Go up the street to the Diamond Head (that was a coffee shop) and get us a cup of hot blood.”
He’d worked as an arranger in the Big Band years. He and a song plugger, as reps for a publishing company, would sell the latest tunes to the band leaders. Eddy would arrange a chorus of the tune in the style of the band to help make the sale. For example, if it was for Tommy Dorsey, he might write it with a trombone lead. Here’s a story he told me: One time, when he was just starting, he wrote up an arrangement that had some B#’s in the sax parts - correct spelling for the harmony he was using. The band tried the arrangement, and screwed it up. The leader didn’t buy the tune. So the piano player, an older guy, took him aside and said, “Look, kid, how many of these guys do you think have ever seen a B#?” The point of the story was, write parts in a way that is easy to read, regardless of what is strictly “correct.”
There was the time that the Ellington band was in Portland. This was in the last years that Duke led it, in the early 1970s. Harry Hilliard, the repairman at the shop where Eddy taught, told me that Harry Carney, Duke’s bari sax player, was going to drop by to say hello, and I should meet him. I had a bass clarinet in for repair; Carney could check it out and see if it worked OK. I had a rehearsal that I thought was important, and didn’t understand what an awesome offer this was, so I made the rehearsal instead. I have been kicking myself about that ever since. But I still have the bass clarinet. Carney said it played OK.
Eddy had a Charlie Parker story. Bird was in Portland for a gig - this must have been 1952 or so - and the local musicians told him he should go meet Eddy. So Parker stopped by Eddy’s studio and they talked saxophones. Eddy had an Albert System clarinet sitting on the counter that he’d been messing around with. Bird spotted it and said that he’d always wanted one of those. So of course, Eddy gave it to him. Parker took it back to New York, and sent Eddy an autographed picture with a thank-you note. Eddy said, “He was a short guy - even shorter than me! He had these stubby little fingers...”
Eddy turned me on to Marcel Mule, Plas Johnson, Friedrich Kuhlau, Eugene Bozza, and Rudy Wiedoeft. I'm still working on those chords and scales.

Update 1/25/17 - Eddy was also the teacher of Kenny Hing, who went on to play with the Count Basie Orchestra for 25 years. Here's a post on Kenny.

Apr 9, 2011

Coltrane Tapes (Amazing - But We Can't Hear Them...Yet)

There's more great material on Barry Kernfeld's website. Before the 2005 auction of jazz memorabilia by Guernsey's, he served as consultant regarding items contributed to the auction by Naima Coltrane's children. This included tapes with a wealth of unissued material, including:

  • Nine complete studio versions of "Impressions" 
  • Several complete takes of a sextet version of the first movement of "A Love Supreme," with Archie Shepp and Art Davis added to Coltrane's quartet
  • The complete "John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman" session, providing insights into the process of producing this landmark recording - for example, "Lush Life" was done in two takes, while "Autumn Serenade" took 14 takes (!)

The tapes were withdrawn from the auction, and remain unissued. Read the whole story on Kernfeld's website (link above). Scroll down a bit to "John Coltrane in Rudy Van Gelder's Studio."

Apr 3, 2011

That's Sophia

A couple of Italian-American gig stories:
I played for years with a 17-piece big band, led first by Johnny L., later by Adrian D. This first story took place when it was John’s band. We were scheduled to play an Italian wedding at a hall about 15 minutes from my house. At the time, I had two cars, a 1971 Datsun and a 1972 Ford Pinto. Neither one worked very well. The Datsun’s brakes were shot, and it was dangerous to drive. The Pinto’s starter motor was just about gone.
I left the house with my tenor sax and clarinet, wearing my tux. I had cut the time pretty close. I should get there with about 10 minutes to set up. I decided to take the Pinto, figuring that it was somewhat less dangerous to drive. Unfortunately, this was the day that the starter died completely. After 10 minutes of trying to fix it, I gave up and loaded my stuff into the Datsun. I drove to the gig extra-carefully on account of the brakes, and arrived about 20 minutes after the downbeat.
I hurried into the hall, set up my instruments, and sat down with the sax section. The band was playing a chart of “Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Blu).” That translates: “To Fly (In the Blue Painted Blue).” Dean Martin got a hit recording out of it in the 1950s.
The trombones were seated right behind the saxes. Joe D., a trombonist, stopped playing long enough to lean forward and ask me:
 “What happened, Peter? De Pinto Blew?”

That’s Sophia
We had a gig in San Francisco, at the Museum of Modern Art. The same band, now led by Adrian D., had been engaged to play for a “Tribute to Sophia Loren,” organized by the Italian consulate. Sophia herself was going to be there, with her husband, producer Carlo Ponti. The band members were excited about the gig. Some were looking forward to getting her autograph.
The band was stationed in the Schwab Room, to provide music for pre-dinner cocktails. The backdrop for our stage was a 30-foot tall caricature of Sophia. We played a set of big band favorites, then the guests adjourned to the main hall, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Atrium, where the dinner tables were, and a stage with podium, for the Master of Ceremonies. The Schwab Room and the main hall were separated by a wide doorway that could be closed with big sliding birch panels.
Looking from the bandstand into the Atrium, we could see that there weren’t going to be any autographs. All we could see of Sophia and Carlo was their four bodyguards, in tuxedos, standing by their table in the middle of the hall. 
The guests were society people, sponsors of the museum. One of them had written special lyrics to be sung to the tune of “That’s Amore.” Here is a sample:
When a star makes you drool 
And you feel like a fool
That’s Sophia!!
Copies of the song had been distributed to the audience. The plan was that the Master of Ceremonies would sing the first few lines through the microphone, then the band would strike up the tune, and then the entire audience would join in.
Just before the song was to start, the event planner decided to shut the sliding door. The band was miked; the event planner (peeking through the closed panel into the hall) would give us the signal to start, and our classy big-band accompaniment would be piped into the main hall via the sound system.
The Master of Ceremonies started the song. We got the high sign, and came in as arranged. We didn’t have a clue what the audience was doing until the event planner noticed that they had finished, and we were still playing. We had been completely out of synch with the audience, the whole time. Adrian cut the band off with half a chorus still to go. 
But it was OK. We didn’t disturb the show - the sound system had never been turned on. We had been playing for ourselves. Our job was done. We collected our checks and packed up our instruments.