Arts & Entertainment

The ‘CliffsNotes’ of jazz compositions

The Philadelphia ‘Real Book’ will feature local music.

For local musician David Dzubinski, jazz is one of the best examples of democracy—it doesn’t matter how old, what race or what gender someone is. Everyone has an equal chance to play.

Dzubinski, a 1989 performance and composition alumnus, also wants local musicians to have an equal chance at sharing their songs.

He said he realized a book of Philly jazz musicians’ compositions would allow musicians to play a wide array of songs more readily. Dzubinski shared the idea with local musicians and music foundations, and his idea took the form of The Philadelphia Real Book.

A Real Book is a book compiled with any number of compilations of lead sheets for jazz songs.

Dzubinski describes the Real Book as the “CliffsNotes” of music, after the popular study guides for literary works. The Real Book “streamlines the music to a digestible thing that we can all use on one page,” he said.

The Real Book is a way of “condensing a five page piece of music down to one sheet” with just the melody and harmonies. “Instead of carrying around 90 books of music and having to page turn to play a whole composition, have everyone on one page a piece” so musicians can pick it up and play together in the same time, Dzubinski said.

Philly Real Book has received support from Philadelphia Jazz Project, the Samuel S. Fels Fund and Jazz Bridge. Suzanne Cloud, executive director and co-founder of Jazz Bridge, has contributed to fundraising for the Real Book.

“We wouldn’t have the website if it wasn’t for her,” Dzubinski said.

Jazz Bridge, a hybrid nonprofit, is the coordinator of the project and wrote the grants that allowed the Real Book to get started, Cloud said.

“It’s important for the Philadelphia music community to inspire younger musicians and older musicians to perform original compositions,” Cloud said.

Rather than musicians learning the same standards over and over again, the book “broadens out the impact of the jazz community,” she added.

Only local musicians will be included in the book. The Real Book has already received close to 100 songs submitted by around 40-45 different people, which is only a “drop in the bucket for what’s available in this town,” Dzubinski said.

Anyone who calls Philadelphia home can submit music, as long as it’s related to jazz form, whether that be fusion, funk, gospel or blues. The music will be reviewed blindly and graded in  categories like artistic value, craftsmanship and likeability.

On one hand, Dzubinski’s vision is allowing musicians to more easily play each other’s material. But it’s also about getting Philly’s music out to the world.

Dzubinski “couldn’t find any other city or regional area that was doing anything like this,” he said, and Cloud said that Philadelphia would be the “first city” to create its own Real Book.

One of Dzubinski’s hopes for Real Book is that “it will bring more people together,” he said, and he has been reaching out and developing communications and relationships with other musicians.

“I’ve met or befriended lots of people that I would normally not have had the opportunity to chat with very often,” he said.

There are so many jazz and blues musicians who are writing their own material, Cloud said, so the Real Book will “inspire the jazz community to play more originals.”

The toughest challenge Dzubinski and Cloud are facing is getting everybody on board. Some musicians are “illiterate as far as written music goes,” Dzubinski said. He doesn’t want this to prevent them from submitting to Real Book, because music literacy is “not a prerequisite to sounding good and being a fabulous artist.”

“If you’re someone who doesn’t have stuff written down and you want to be a part of it, please contact us,” Dzubinski said. “We want this to be all inclusive, whether you’re literate or nonliterate. We will help you figure out a way to get that done.”

Dzubinski hopes The Real Book will help people cross paths, and possibly develop friendships in the process.

“Nobody knows everybody,” Dzubinski said. “It’s going to serve to bring the jazz community closer together.”

Tsipora hacker can be reached at tsipora.hacker@temple.edu. 

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