Dec 18, 2014

Combo Projects! "Thelonious Monk Fake Book," "Just Gershwin Real Book," "Charles Mingus - More Than a Fake Book"

I've been coaching a jazz combo class on Saturday mornings for longer than I can remember - at least 25 years. The personnel have stayed pretty constant. Every five years or so, a bass player will move away or something, but we have some great continuity. Two of our current members were also founding members (Ralph on trumpet, Bob on bari).

We've had a few long-term projects. The first was my "List of Shame," a list of tunes that no self-respecting adult jazz improviser should ever have to read again (e.g., Take the A Train, All of Me, etc.). That list turned into my list of 100 Must-Know Jazz Tunes. Currently, every Saturday I will call two of these tunes, with reading strongly discouraged.

A couple of years ago we took on another project: playing through every tune in the Thelonious Monk Fake Book. The "Monk Book" is a collection of 70 Monk tunes, published by Hal Leonard. At the rate of one or two tunes per Saturday, this took us some while. We eventually completed the project, and had a lot of fun doing it. We played some tunes better than others, but we did check them all out. "Brilliant Corners" and "Trinkle Tinkle" were particularly challenging, but we gave them our best effort.

I can recommend the Thelonious Monk Fake Book as a well-researched collection of most of Monk's compositions. Chord changes are clean and jazz-friendly.

With that project finished, we then took on the Just Gershwin Real Book (Alfred Publishing). This book has charts for over 100 George Gershwin compositions, including the great tunes we all know, as well as a very large number of lesser, obscure ones. At two tunes per week, we are about a week or two away from finishing that project.

I can recommend the Just Gershwin Real Book as an extensive collection that will give you a sense of Gershwin's writing and the nature of his output, with a few hidden gems that you may not have known, along with many that are not exactly George and Ira's ticket to everlasting glory. The chord changes are not always clearly stated - the editors seem to have followed the path of omitting the original piano arrangements, but nevertheless trying to replicate the piano arrangements with chord symbols. This quite often results in charts that are cluttered with extraneous and non-functional chords. We got a lot of practice in editing charts on the fly - figuring out which changes to disregard, while sight-reading. It's a great collection, but not completely jazz-friendly.

It looks like our next project will be Charles Mingus - More Than a Fake Book, a collection of 55 Mingus pieces. This is a great product. Transcriptions are excellent; former Mingus sidemen were involved in the project. Lots of informative notes and Mingus lore are included.

This should keep us busy through 2015.