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Tim Nikolsky: Getting Real Down Under

By Published: April 20, 2011
AAJ: How difficult has it been to construct a Real Book, which can be used both in an educational setting and on gigs?

TN: It's been an immense amount of hard work. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. Far out! The sheer volume of work is a challenge. Music by a lot of these composers isn't digitized so I have to spend time digitizing that and putting it into a music notation program called Sibelius and essentially formatting that in a readable, usable shape and form. That takes time. A lot of the tunes are hard to find for the reason that some of the composers have passed on. There is an Australian jazz archive, which is part of the national film and sound archive but it doesn't have that many resources and not too many people know about it. People's archives are given to friends or they're in boxes in a garage somewhere. Another challenge is trying to decide what would be an appropriate tune for representation in the Real Book , there's a lot that goes into that, including personal preference, I have to admit.

The web survey respondents in the Australian jazz community have identified that they wanted a range of tunes and varying levels of difficulty, with some tunes that you could just put on a bandstand and sight read but other tunes that you need to sit down and rehearse. I've tried to fulfill both of these criteria. Some of the tunes are pretty straight-ahead, straightforward, but there are other tunes where you'd need to sit down with a metronome and nut it out.

AAJ: There are about 400 tunes in the book, aren't there?

TN: Yeah, at the moment there about 380. I'm working on draft four at the moment and I think I've taken out about 150 tunes, as part of the editing process, through talking to these "key informants." These people that I'm interviewing that are experts suggested a lot of things and I took out a lot of tunes and went out and found a lot of tunes. I made it a bit more inclusive, had more people represented and a wider variety of music represented in the book as well.

AAJ: Of the list of tunes on the draft you sent, me it's interesting to note that more than half the tunes are from the 2000s; is that still where it stands at the moment?

TN: Yes, that's right. I think the average year worked out at about 2000. That's for several reasons. I haven't put a lot of really old tunes in there, because it's important to balance older tunes with more contemporary tunes and include different styles. The web survey in general showed that most people wanted the book to be inclusive in terms of styles. There were some notable exceptions about the age of compositions that people would like to see most represented. Some people were adamant that only tunes written after 1980 should be included, where as others wanted older tunes and others a balance of everything.

AAJ: It's an almost impossible task to keep everybody happy, isn't it?

TN: I think you've hit the nail on the head there because I think once I put it out I think people are going to be putting up "Wanted" signs with some money on my head [laughs].

AAJ: You'd better put your helmet on.

TN: I think I already know that I'm going to be criticized for not putting in certain things but my answer to that is that there's always Australian Jazz Real Book Volume 2, and also, if they think they can do a Real Book they can have a go themselves [laughs]. I think that the important thing though is to get an AJRB out there in people's hands and them using it.

AAJ: Do you think that the high proportion of tunes written after 2000 reflects the strength of contemporary jazz in Australia, or is it, perhaps, more a reflection of the demographic of the web survey?

TN: I think it largely reflects the demographic of the people who completed the survey, for sure. Obviously doing a survey on the internet lends itself to a certain demographic. I could be accused of not being entirely inclusive in that respect, but where people were not able to respond to the web survey I called them up, asked them the questions and wrote down their answers. I made sure that those people who were not computer literate had a voice in the survey too.

I also had to think about creating a resource that is potentially going to be used by the next generation of jazz musicians that are coming through the ranks. I think it's important that they have tunes of their immediate peers that they can aspire to. A lot of the older musicians who play jazz are probably less inclined to play other people's music and more inclined to be doing their own thing if they've been playing for more than twenty years. So, yeah, it is a conscious decision to keep it fairly contemporary, so that young musicians can relate to musicians who they can actually go to a gig and see or check out a YouTube of them performing, or buy an album of the people who are in this Real Book.

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