The only jazz standards book I own is the cliched Real Book 6th Edition Vol 1. I'm going to fix that soon by getting another book or three, but I'm not sure whether there are other comprehensive jazz chart anthologies that can stack up. Are there others worth picking up, including Real Book Vols 2 and 3 or any good online fake books? Or maybe other standards collections would be diminishing returns at this point, and I should focus on musician or style-specific books?

(I tried to keep this broad enough so that answers will be useful to everyone, but in case mentioning specific players/styles would be constructive how about these: Monk, Miles, Duke, ragtime/stride, bebop, hard bop, fusion.)


Since this question may be phrased too broadly, my specific goals are learning about other similar big collections of basic charts for canonical jazz/jazzblues-etc related standards, to flip through and practice low-prep shedding when given only the melody/chords. Real Book Vol 2 is a good option for American Songbook charts, but I'm also curious about suggestions that may focus on other specific styles.

  • 2
    Some years ago, a former student visited me after uni and gave me a little present - just about all of the real and fake books (Bb and Eb inc.) on a memory stick. Invaluable! I'm pretty sure a lot of it is now downloadable from various sites. No harm in having it all accessible, and more convenient to be able to print off the occasional song, which is how I use mine.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 9:12
  • @Tim, I do have some bootleg PDFs saved as references, but my goal here isn't really specific song lookup purposes (I'll usually look up the chart online after testing my ear), but for physically flipping to semi-random pages to practice my sight-jamming on titles I recognize. I certainly won't claim to have exhausted the Real Book's contents, but I have gone through most of the notable standards and I'm wondering if there are other famous collections with any Important Songs that vol 1 missed. Maybe something genre-specific outside the American songbook, like a "fake book of fusion?"
    – user63785
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 15:22

2 Answers 2


The usual Real Book's are OK but contain many errors or suspect chords. Better are the "New Real Book" by Sher Music (there are a bunch of them). Also that way you are legal.

Worlds Greatest Fake Book is also supposed to be good, but I don't own it.

By the way if you play a transposing instrument (Eb/Bb sax etc) here's some advice : just by C copies and learn to transpose. You spend less and learn a very valuable skill at the same time. And your non-transposing friends can use the same copy that you have.

  • 1
    Good recommendations thanks, I was unaware of these series. That New Real Book looks pretty comprehensive between the 3 volumes, lots of notable omissions from Volume 1 though so I guess they don't front-load them by popularity like the Real Book did. World's Greatest looks very solid too and I like the emphasis on fusion, although reading that song list kinda makes me want to just get a Weather Report anthology book.
    – user63785
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 18:12
  • these are a pretty good starting point, but note that Fake books aren't the only way to go. I also like songbooks of the "great songwriters" (Porter, Berlin, Gershwin ect), the ones with the original piano arrangement. Often the Real Book versions are a chinese whispers version of the original - someone's transcription of someone's reharmonisation, and some of the chords are quite poor. It's interesting to see what the composer originally wrote. Also, of course there are the records themselves ... the primary source.
    – danmcb
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 19:27

"The only jazz standards book I own is the cliched Real Book 6th Edition Vol 1."

Why is this "chiched"?

Also, with a bounty on this question I think it should be less broad and more specific but that's just my opinion.

w/r to Real books and anthologies in general you will never get great arrangements. These books are meant to help working musicians get a quick peak at the basic structure of a tune. They are like cliff notes and you would not pass an exam (or at least do poorly) having read only cliff notes.

"I'm going to fix that soon by getting another book or three, but I'm not sure whether there are other comprehensive jazz chart anthologies that can stack up. Are there others worth picking up, including Real Book Vols 2 and 3 or any good online fake books? Or maybe other standards collections would be diminishing returns at this point, and I should focus on musician or style-specific books?"

This depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you want to really learn Jazz, or any style of music you need to immerse yourself in that music, and the culture of that music. You cannot really learn Jazz from the real book. For a guitarist this would amount to playing a constant barrage of Freddie straight 4 (ii-V7)'s in the circle of 5ths all day long. As dmb pointed out, there are "errors" in the Real Book, both in melodies and chords. Despite that I think the Real books are the best value for the money (but I got my first one in the late 70's early 80's when they were probably bootleg). They were a quarter of the price as a published Fake Book and i.m.o., and despite my previous comment, had descent changes. I own a "World's Greatest Fake Book" and it is anything but that! The printing quality is better than the Real Book, but they crammed 1000's of tunes into it, small font, and the chords are mostly Maj and Min, not a lot of extended chords. For a guitarist this doesn't give much to work with.

However, if your goal is to have a quick reference to a large library of tunes to pull out and play at a low key gig then any of these are great resources. Like I said Real Book has worked well for me but they are all similar in look a feel.

A better idea is to devote some time to the following, if you haven't already

  1. Studying music theory and how chords move in a progression. Why? Because there really are only a few meaningful sets of changes and you start to see why when you study music theory. After some time the movement of the chords makes sense in a way that transcends a particular piece. The melody hints at what chords to play and you start to rely less on the handicap of the charts and just follow your ear. When you can do this then you really can be creative with a simple cheat sheet. Start with classical harmony theroy and work through Max Reger's Modulation. That will go a long way.

  2. Studying actual scores for pieces that you really like. Why? Because the lead sheet don't tell the whole story. Like I said, these are cliff notes and you need to know the story to benefit from them. These scores tell the story of the piece as the composer intended it. Especially for Big Band pieces. This will give you a context for the song allowing you to add the necessary nuances to properly and faithfully represent the piece, or provide a comparative backdrop for your own interpretation. Even if you want to do a bosa nova version of Caravan by Duke or a Bop version of How Insensitive, you have some context that would help to quote the original piece. Lastly, sometimes the backing sections have very cool riffs in them that you can lift and use in performance and soloing. This tells people you know your sh!t.

  3. Listening to multiple arrangements of the same tune by great band leaders and artists. Why? Because you like music and these are good musicians? Music is sound and it helps to hear it. People from different times and cultures will interpret classic pieces differently and you learn by listening to masters work ths out. Also, the lead sheets often do not include interesting intros and breaks that are in the score or on the recornding. Sometimes the recorded versions have a little extra improv that you won't find even in an orchetral score.

I'll give an example uing a simple yet effective Jazz tune, All Blues by Miles Davis. Just reading it straight from the Real Book and having never heard it before a young musician might thing "Hey it's blues so I'll just play a Texas Shuffle, or B. B. King riff". It might work if the rest of the band is on the same wavelength and the audience isn't picky. But the tune is so iconic it is hard to deviate from it and sound good. Enter the Mambo Kings who did a phenominal Latin verion of this. Other great renditions for guitarists are Kenny Burrell on Laid Back, and Pat Martino Live and Yoshi's. Lastly Stanley Clarke Like at the Greek. When I wanted to really learn this piece inside and out I made a "mixed tape" with 12 versions including Miles, and transcribebd all of the Miles verion on Kind of Blue, Piano parts and solos included. This is how you really learn a tune.

Once you've deveoted that kind of effort to at least some tunes you can go back to the Real Book and read through it with a differnet perspective. You can hear the differnece when someone plays down a chart as a novice versus someone who has gone deep into the music. These approaches apply to any style, Bluegrass, Counrty, Irish Folk, Flamenco. It also applies to sub-genres. For example, Be Bop is considered a form of Jazz but Parker and Dizzy are quite a bit different compared to Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman. Don't just buy anthology after anthology, learn the style. Then the anthology will be more usefull. But when you need a huge collection of cheat sheets they are all the same, watered down and lacking in info.

That being said, again, you haven't shared your intent. I always advise studnts interested in Jazz, or any style, to do more listening than reading. If you are a working musician and need to get your hands on the largest collection of tunes keep in mide a few things. The "Real Book" was meant to cover classic Jazz tunes including bop. There is a lot of Duke, Parker, Mingus, Show tunes from old movies and musicals. Other types of Fake Books are more commercial and cover crooner tunes, movie and TV theme music, and probably go deeper into modern Jazz and easy listening, sometime getting into classic rock. A larger fake book like the World's Greatest will be more diverse in pop styles but even more watered down than the Real Book. For me, I like bop and mingus quite a bit. I have gone very deep in learning both with a combination of the real book and listening to the artists. I have every CD I can find with Mingus' work, and the Charlie Parker Omnibook which has his solos transcribbed. I regularly play Anthroplogy, Blues for Alice, Donna Lee, Ornitholoy, Dexterity, and Confirmation. The basic head and changes I did get from the Real Book, but suplemented these with riffs from the CDs and the Omnibook.

In closing my advice is to go deeper with the books you have and if you have already done that, use what you've learned on Real Book Vol 2. There are a lot of great tunes in there.

***** EDIT *****

Based on feedback from the OP I have to add the following. w/r to playing over changes for practice an option is something along the lines of Jamey Abersold play along CDs (tapes or LPs depending on your age), and I'm sure by now they have an online subscription service (if not they should). There is also band in a box, and you can get the complete Real Book vol 1 for it. It is easy enough to input changes. At least this gives you some ear candy, and you can change tempo and style.

  • I specified my specific intent in my comment on the question, left the question itself more broad on purpose: I want a big collection of basic charts for canonical jazz/jazzblues-related standards, to flip through and practice low-prep shedding when given only the melody/chords. I'm not using it for deep learning or ear/musicianship training, the Real Book is a quick reference book and I'm using it as such. I'm interested in comparable anthologies to the Real Book, which would contain charts that the Real Book is missing (because it's focusing on a different style/genre or whatever)
    – user63785
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 15:16
  • Sorry, none of that was clear from your original post.
    – user50691
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 15:17
  • Vol 2 is definitely a good option for American Songbook charts, but I'm also interested if people have suggestions that focus on other subgenres.
    – user63785
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 15:18
  • Many sub genres are represented in the real book.
    – user50691
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 15:24
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    I won't critique your approach but if you really want to "shred" over changes don't go with books. Go with play along backing tracks. Jamey Abersold has been around since the 70s and is very good. You can also get the complete Real Book Vol 1 for band in a box. I'll add this to the answer.
    – user50691
    Commented Oct 22, 2019 at 17:52

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