A lot of jazz is heavily improvised, and I know that many musicians typically rely on fake books and their progressions to build improvisation on top of. My question is, why aren't there fake books for blues? It would seem to be a pretty great tool to have for an aspiring blues improviser. Is it because most blues music sticks to much simpler progressions than jazz?
In addition to traditional Blues being simpler and less diverse than Jazz, historically Blues is played in smaller groups, or even solo, and more often by musicians who learn and play by ear. In that sense (and in others) it feels a lot closer to Rock 'n Roll than to Jazz. I would say Blues is more of an oral tradition, and Jazz is more composed in a similar fashion to Classical music.
As others have pointed out, if you can play a pentatonic minor scale in every key (you might survive quite well just knowing five or so keys), and you pick up or invent a few other good licks, you can improvise over most Blues progressions.
Furthermore, from a certain point of view, there are fake books for Blues, at least a little bit. There is an excellent transcription of one version each of every song Robert Johnson recorded. A few quick web searches confirm that there are song books for all of the most famous names in Blues I could think of in thirty seconds or so. So if you want to get super cerebral about your Blues, the material is out there.
Blues songs, by definition, basically, follow the blues progression as found in 12 bar blues. Whilst there are lots of variants of the 12 bar blues, they are basically the same format. The fake (or real) book would be rather thin due to this. Yes, there are other songs which come under the auspices of 'blues', but in comparison to jazz standards, they are few and far between. If one can find one's way round basic blues, there's probably no need to refer to a compendium of blues songs.
There are some blues fake books, and they may well be of use to the "aspiring blues improviser" described in the OP.
- The Real Blues Book (Hal Leonard, 2011) (SONG LIST)
- The Blues Fake Book (Hal Leonard, 1999) (SONG LIST)
- The Blues Fakebook, ed. Woody Mann (Oak Publications, 1995) (SONG LIST)
All three books appear to be available only in "C instrument" editions.
There are fake books for every type of music including Blues.
Jazz progressions are not the elaborate when you understand basic music theory.
What is in a Fake book is often show tunes that jazz players like to improv over whereas Blues is one of many cultural musical styles that is used in Jazz.
One could argue that the chords are not valuable but the melody or head is what the player needs and that is not discernible from a chord chart. In fact, the "changes" in most fake books are meaningless, they do not follow the original score and are just some cut and paste job using the circle progression. In addition it is my experience that the really experienced players can support a tune given just the Key, and the basic architecture, AABA, 12 bar, etc. With this info and a good ear the rest follows.
I disagree that blues is less diverse. This opinion probably comes from listening to only a small amount of Blues or not giving the same credit to how Blues has evolved over more than 100 years, but allowing Jazz to span multiple incarnations over a few decades.
Take, for example, the following list of tunes;
The thrill is gone
Sweet Home Chicago
All are "blues" standards yet you could not get away with faking one by playing the others on the list. They do not even have a similar structure. In fact the Real Book publishes Blues standards books. I think the very premise of this question is faulty. Rather than ask why they don't exists, look for them and see if they exist.