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Book Review

The South African Jazz Real Book Vol. 1


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The South African Jazz Real Book Vol. 1
Jannie van Tonder & George Werner
166 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-620-93506-7

In an age when songwriters are routinely defrauded by music streaming platforms—by every thieving one of them—you might think that another real book would be as welcome as a Russian machine gun squad in a chidren's playground. But there are real books and real books and The South African Jazz Real Book Vol. 1 is one of the good guys. Or so it would appear. Whether fees are being paid to copyright holders is unclear—the Acknowledgements page states "the whole project rests upon the generosity of our composers," which suggests they are not—but licenses have been issued by the publishers of all 116 tunes and the publication was financed in part by South Africa's National Arts Council. Composers, publishers and licenses are listed for every tune.

Among the 86 composers whose works are included are pioneers such as Todd Matshikiza ("Back Of The Moon" from his score for 1959's historic King Kong, South Africa's first jazz opera; see the YouTube clip below), Caiphus Semenya ("There's Music In The Air"), Chris McGregor ("Country Cooking"), Jonas Gwangwa ("Flowers Of The Nation"), Philemon Hou ("Grazin' In The Grass"), Kippie Moeketsi ("I Remember Billy") and an extensive honour roll of their peers, up to and including more recent figures such as Bheki Mseleku, Mervyn Africa and Sisonke Xonti. Notable omissions such as Abdullah Ibrahim/Dollar Brand may be explained by issues regarding rights/fees.

Care has been taken to transcribe the toplines and chord changes accurately. We are told that Cape Town bandleaders and educators Jannie van Tonder and George Werner worked with many of the composers alive in 2021 to ensure authenticity, and a check of half a dozen tunes confirmed they are spot on.

A welcome and valuable resource for musicians and educators, The South African Jazz Real Book Vol. 1 also contains lyrics where they exist, thumbnail biographies of each of the composers, a page of seven drum patterns (such as mbaqanga and kwela), and nine full-page illustrations. There is, of course, a treasure trove of other tunes worthy of inclusion, so roll on further volumes in the series.

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