How The Real Book can inspire you to learn jazz piano styles

One great thing about The Real Book is that, like most fake books, it’s organized alphabetically. This means that as you flip through its pages, you’ll encounter tunes from all eras of jazz and in all styles.

We can use this as a learning tool, to inspire us to learn how to play all these styles.

While it’s true that leadsheets in The Real Book don’t give you the whole musical arrangement to play, this is precisely the point. The goal is to learn how to play all of these styles yourself, and I’ve found that flipping through The Real Book can pose an inspiring challenge that I want to rise up to meet.

Let[‘s say that you open up the book to a random page, and find yourself staring at Charlie Parker’s “Donna Lee.” Although your first reaction might be “Yikes! That look HARD!” I hope you’ll set that emotion aside for long enough to begin becoming interested in the tune itself.

Do some research. Read about the tune’s history, and you’ll find that it was really composed by a young Miles Davis. (This was confirmed to me personally by none other than Max Roach, the legendary bebop drummer who was “on the scene” at the time”). Maybe you’ll be inspired to listen to the whole recording session that produced “Donna Lee,” with the great Bud Powell at the piano. Do you see where this is leading? Opening The Real Book to a random page has led to spend a half-hour enjoying some wonderful music!

Next, you can begin practicing the melody, s-l-o-w-l-y at first. In fact, you can have a lot of fun playing it slowly for a few weeks if you wish. After all, there’s no hurry. Spend time with the tune, and you’ll find yourself playing it better and better. Then begin improvising on it.

Maybe you read that “Donna Lee” was based on the chord changes to an older standard tune, “Indiana.” So go back and listen to several versions of “Indiana” and get to know the song that inspired the young Miles Davis. Perhaps you can learn to play “Indiana” as well. (And you’ll find that the melody is a whole lot easier than the melody to “Donna Lee.” Whew!!!)

Using The Real Book in this way will teach you a lot. It’s because you’ll never know what the next page will bring, stylistically.

It’s been about 2 years since I began going through the latest edition of The Real Book page-by-page, and making a new video each week to post on YouTube. Along the way, I’ve encountered some tunes that I’ve known for years, as well as some tunes I’ve never played before.

Here’s my latest video; have you ever played slow stride like this? Or improvised voicings like I play at the beginning? Check it out, and let it inspire you to do the same:

Could It Be You: Journey Through The Real Book #74

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

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