I am trying to learn jazz standarts from the real book and for example when I play "autumn leaves" or "black orhpeus" with guitar from the real book it sounds simpler than original recordings of Paul Desmond. What causes this and how can I practice in a way that is more similar to their music?

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    The real book doesn't sound like anything. It's barely a score. They are like cliff notes or cheat sheets for full scores. Are you saying that the notes or chords are different and can you give an example? Or is it that there isn't enough info in the book to replicate the recording? – user50691 Jan 6 at 11:31
  • When I play the score on guitar something feels missing. Maybe it is because I only play notes not the chords and I am not doing any improvistation neither – Nabla Jan 6 at 11:33
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    I think you are giving too much credit to the Real Book, or expecting too much. See my answer for more. – user50691 Jan 6 at 11:36
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    Paul Desmond is not the original artist for either of these tunes. Black Orpheus (actually, Manhã de Carnaval) is by Luis Bonfa (composer and performer) for the movie Black Orpheus. Autumn Leaves (originally Les Feuilles Mortes) was composed by Joseph Kosma with original lyrics by Jacques Prévert in French, and later by Johnny Mercer in English. It was first recorded by Yves Montand in French, and by Jo Stafford in English. The history is actually a bit more complicated. – Jeff Learman Jan 6 at 13:23
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    @JeffLearman makes a great point: many Real Book transcriptions were not even made from the original recordings! – Todd Wilcox Jan 6 at 13:31

The Real Book is meant to give you the basic ingredients for these standards, they are not full scores or transcriptions. I would hope that at least the head is correct but sometimes it isn't. The chords may or may not come close to those on the recording and much of unique elements of the recording are completely missing, like intros etc.

You can learn the tune and make it your own from the Real Book (and that's the intent), but you will never get the authentic feel of the original from it. That is why they list the recordings in the Real Book. You are supposed to find them, and listen. Your ear is the best way to learn.

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    There's the additional issue that realbook versions aren't necessarily written from one specific recording. They may be generalisations of several versions, companded in the author's head, as a 'decent average' of how it goes. – Tetsujin Jan 6 at 11:38
  • @Tetsujin Good point – user50691 Jan 6 at 11:38
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    This is of course an issue, not only with the Real Book, or with any jazz transcriptions, but with all musical notation: it's always an abstract and does not contain all the information present in a performance. Listening and playing are the only way to make music from paper. – Scott Wallace Jan 6 at 11:40
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    One clear example is “The Girl From Ipanema”. The real book version is quite wrong compared to the original. In that case they didn’t even go to the original for their transcription! – Todd Wilcox Jan 6 at 13:26
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    @ToddWilcox, You are right about programming a score in comparison to human performance but with a full score I can imaging what it might sound like, I have a chance. With a lead sheet and no other experience all hope is lost. – user50691 Jan 6 at 23:24

Real and fake books are skeletons of classic tunes. They're the bare bones - containing minimal information. The basic tune (lead) and the harmonies (chords), sometimes with alternative chords shown. They're really not meant to be any more, any less. They're enough for musicians to have in front of them to play, straight off, any of those tunes.

Because it's mostly jazz, even a simple rendition may deviate from what's written - it's what jazz does - so expecting anything in the Real book to be a faithful copy of any recording is folly. And if one only plays the tune, bare, or the chords, with no melody, well, it's hardly going to sound like a trio or quartet track.

Listen to ten different recordings of, say, Autumn leaves, and you'll recognise the melody (at least first time round!), but then you'll hear ten different - often very different - 'translations' of the piece. All probably initially gleaned from a Real book.

Plus - they're going to sound rather different unless you use the same instrumentation as on tha recording, and maybe - even the same players!

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    This is the best advice. The fact that the author knows it doesn't sound right indicates that they've heard it. – user50691 Jan 6 at 12:53
  • Indeed. It might be noted (hehe) that the beginnings of musical notation in the West were derived from cheironomy, the use of hand gestures to indicate where a melody went up and down, and were only intended as a pons asinorum or mnemonic: an aid to the memory, not an attempt to convey all the information necessary to perform the piece. The evolution of notation over the centuries gradually added more and more information, but the idea that written music should make it possible for one who doesn't know a piece to reconstruct it completely is a very modern one, and arguably not possible. – Scott Wallace Jan 6 at 13:21
  • I guess I should add, to be historically correct, that by "beginnings of musical notation in the West" I mean the neumatic notation, which gradually evolved into our modern notation. There were earlier forms of notation, for instance the Greek symbols indicating steps of the scale, which died out. – Scott Wallace Jan 6 at 14:30

A Real Book chart is often based on the most popular version of the tune, not necessarily the original. For example, Autumn Leaves and Black Orpheus are from the Sinatra versions.

And, as stated in other answers, these charts are intended to show the conceptual framework of a tune, rather than capture nuance of a particular version.

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    An even more notable example where the Real Book is based on somebody's adaptation of an original song would be "Alice in Wonderland". The song for the movie is in duple meter (probably 4/4), but the Real Book version is in 3/4. – supercat Jan 6 at 22:47

As the other answers point out the Real Book is just a collection of lead sheets.

You must be just starting out with jazz so you should look at both:

  • Fake books and lead sheets, and get some books or lessons about how to play from a fake book. There are lots of lessons for that.
  • Jazz transcriptions, which is when someone writes down in notation a recorded jazz improvisation.
  • Original published sources. Depending on the song you can get the original music many standard songs come from Broadway musicals.

My personal peeve was with rhythm changes and the song I Got Rhythm. There literally is no one definitive version of rhythm changes. There are endless examples of the changes and lead sheet versions. I finally got a copy of the Gershwin music from a published copy of the musical Girl Crazy. But, even that was surely not the notation pages used by the orchestra for the original production. It was just a piano reduction. You can also find various piano solos which are probably the work of various editors/arrangers and not necessarily a transcription of anything Gershwin played himself!

Eventually you realize this kind of music - jazz and pop music - is not about a definitive score. I suspect many famous tunes started as some combination of composer's notebooks, band charts, etc. used to make a first recording and those sources are not published. Then some sheet music version was published for people to play at home, either to promote the tune or to meet demand for a popular tune. Other musicians perform and record the tune. In jazz the first fake book was developed and people wrote lead sheets that sketched a general outline of songs.

There is no "urtext" like in classical music. You need to look for the resource that fits your purpose...

how can I practice in a way that is more similar to their music?

  • get some resources about how to play from a fake book, you don't simply play the lead sheet exactly as written
  • look for transcriptions of specific performances you like, the traditional jazz way is to do it by ear, "quote" parts of their playing or emulate it in a general sense

One final thought. You tagged your question with guitar, but compared the fake book to Paul Desmond recordings. You will probably have an easier time learning how to play guitar from a fake book if you compare to recordings or jazz guitarists.

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    A friend of mine was MD for Buddy Rich (don't ask;)) He would frequently have to arrange tomorrow's gig on the bus to it, back in the days when it was all pen & paper. Buddy would see & hear it for the first time at the gig, onstage, & woe betide if he didn't like it!! – Tetsujin Jan 6 at 17:54

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