With its stage-friendly fonts and chord symbols, as well as its sensible one-song-per-page format, the first volume of the Real Book (as it was so nicknamed decades ago) may be the biggest-selling songbook of all time. But its world-record sales can’t be verified because up until now, well, this collection of 480-plus timeless jazz standards has been completely illegal. The composers involved, though undoubtedly honored to be included in what has essentially become the Old Testament of jazz, have never received dime one in royalties for their contributions. And if your music stand was one of the few worldwide without a copy of this must-have manual on it, you had to find a dark corner of your local music shop, choose a moment when no possible “narcs” were within earshot, and then slyly ask the clerk, “Hey man, got any Real Books?”
But leave it to Hal Leonard to secure the publishing rights to all (well, most) of these great tunes and clean up many of the transcription errors that plagued earlier editions of the book while also generating some coin for the legendary cats who made the Real Book possible in the first place. It’s called The Real Book Sixth Edition, and yes, it retains much of the familiar Xeroxed-in-the-back-room look and feel of the original. And before you are tempted to whine about the Real Book going corporate, or Hal Leonard cashing in on a grassroots phenomenon, dig this: The new legal version retails for only 25 bucks—that’s, ironically, about ten bucks less the contraband version. Money talks, doesn’t it? Now, sit down, plug in, and play some, ahem, legit jazz.