It's about time someone attempted to publish a 'legal' version of the 'illegal' Real Book, the standard text that virtually all jazz musicians use to enable them to play together. But it's unfortunate that Hal Leonard was the company to do it, because they still have not gotten it right. For those that don't know, rumour has it that the original Real Book (editions 1 thru 5) were originally created by music students at the legendary Berklee School Of Music, who began transcribing the heads (melodies)and chord progressions of the jazz standards that they most often played and binding them into a book that they xeroxed and shared amongst each other. The only problem is that they never got permission from the composers/publishers of the music and consequently never paid any royalties to said composers/publishers.
When comparing the 'illegal' 5th edition of the Real Book to the new 'legal' 6th edition, the first thing you notice is that several songs are missing from Hal Leonard's 6th edition. I assume that's because Leonard & Co. was not able to get the rights for some songs, or couldn't get them at a rate that would still allow them to achieve the profit margin they were shooting for. Though disappointing, that's perfectly understandable.
However, what I can't understand is why they decided to publish several songs in different keys than they were originally presented in the 5th edition. Yes, John Coltrane originally recorded "Equinox" in the key of concert C#, but for years it's been played by what what must be millions of jazz players the world over in the key of C, as it appeared in the original Real Book. Instead of following what the 5th edition did, Leonard chose to publish it in C# in the new 6th edition. Though I'm sure more and more people will eventually buy this new 'legal' version, it doesn't change the fact that millions of people still own the old book and therefore countless numbers of people will continue to want to play it in the 5th edition key, either by reading or from memory. So why change the key, making the legal and illegal books incompatible? Or, if your sense of order compels you to publish the originally recorded C# key, why not include a second version in the 5th edition key of C, so that everyone has a choice and can be on the same page?
One of the things that people have always complained about regarding the illegal 5th edition (and those that preceeded it) is that the sheets are full of notation errors. Some have been corrected through the years, but the number of errors still abound. The musicians usually hand correct them themselves as they come across them, or just remember where the errors are and adjust accordingly. One of the exciting things about Leonard's legal version it that it advertised that it was completely accurate, correcting all the prior errors. Nothing could be further from the truth! I'm sure there are corrections that have been made, but the Hal Leonard version is still full of errors, and it's both appalling and completely unacceptable for a company as large and sophisticated as Hal Leonoard Publishing to have released such shoddy work. They didn't even insure that all the songs are correctly arranged alphabetically in the book!
Having said all that, there are three things that Hal Leonard's new 6th edition has going for it:
1 - It's cheaper than the illegal version, which usually run about $35.00 each. Amazon sells the concert key version for less than $20.00.
2 - The type is clearer and just a bit easier to read.
3 - Last but most importantly, the composers of these great tunes are actually getting paid, as they should be.
It can be argued that reason 3 (paying the composers) is more than enough reason to buy this version over the illegal version, and I have to agree with that, but be that as it may, it's still quite saddening that, after waiting all this time for a company to publish a legal version of this legendary text, they still couldn't do a competent job.