It is great when projects work out perfectly. So I am blowing my own trumpet, because it was my idea to bring a brilliant writer and philosopher to Lamastre for a book signing. Not that he lives far away, but he is rather timid – which is a bigger obstacle than miles when it comes to public appearances.
His name is Jean-Pierre Martin and he has just published an “autopianography” intitled “Real Book”.
Just up my street, as I think the famous REAL BOOK, which is the bible of all jazz musicians, is a beautiful example of “power to the people”. Perhaps not as spectacular and politically significant as the Fall of the Berlin Wall, but it shows that when there is a real desire to unite interests, there is a way to avoid all red tape and just get on with it.
During the 60’s and 70’s it was extremely difficult to get hold of printed jazz music, for several reasons. The most usual instruments are in different keys: saxophones in Eb, trumpets in Bb etc so the publisher would need to write the music for three sections on the same score. The new generation of jazz musicians were young and generally didn’t have much money, so buying the score from a Charing Cross Road publisher for the price of three lunches wasn’t an option. What’s more jazz is based on improvisation, so how do you write the score anyway?
Well, each jazz piece has a theme comprising melody and chords. To avoid copyright issues there was one solution: just to write down the chords. And soon an anthology appeared, called the Fake Book. Not much help for a trumpet or a trombone, because we only play one note at a time! So students of Berklee University sat down and – in their spare time – transcribed the melody of each theme, based on the song’s most famous recording and in the key of that recording. Of course the improvisation was up to you. You could always listen to the record and try to imitate Miles, Coltrane or Parker.
To differentiate their work from the Fake Book they called at the Real Book.
All this in the 60’s and 70’s before the electronic revolution. So how to distribute this work?
XEROX!!! The photocopy machine. (I remember being so excited when we had our first photocopier at school that we all stuck our heads underneath the lid and photocopied our faces – making sure we had our eyes closed. I suppose everyone did this. The precursor of selfies!)
Of course you couldn’t buy the Real Book. The only way to get hold of your own copy was to borrow it from a fellow musician, photocopy every page – almost 500 of them – and be sure to get it back to him before the next jam session! Over the next 20 years millions of scores from the Real Book were photocopied. And it didn’t take long: jazz had found a common language. So whether you are in Sidney, Moscow or Arlebosc, if the band plays ‘Round Midnight and you want to join them, you know it is going to be in in E flat minor. (6 flats! – why don’t they play All of me which is in C major!)
Now back to Lamastre and the other Real Book written by Jean-Pierre Martin.
The book talks about his lifelong obsession with the piano. Although starting to play as a child and driven by the desire to master the instrument like Art Tatum or Duke Ellington, his fingers struggled to realise his dream. During an eventful life as a militant student in the Paris of 68, as a factory worker, as a clog maker in the middle of nowhere and finally as a university professor, the piano never left him. He describes his frustration and fascination with his instrument, which he characterises as a despotic mistress. When his career as a writer took off, he finally had to choose between the two keyboards. The piano moved into the background, but the obsession did not. He therefore defines himself as an amateur musician and he is making the point that the word “amateur” has unjustly gained a pejorative connotation in common usage. Amateur means “the person who loves”, so let’s love what we do, and never mind the labels.
The signing took place at the bookshop L’Arbre à Feuilles on Saturday during the farmers’ market – the day when the little town is at its busiest. You may remember from previous blog posts that we have already organized a book signing for “Welcome to the Free Zone” by N. and L. Gara, and a signing session with Jean-Loup Chifflet, author of “Sky My Husband”.
For the presentation of “Real Book” I had organized a trio of musicians to accompany the author (on piano) so that he could illustrate his book by playing jazz standards. Myriam, who runs the bookshop, fully embraced the festive mood and combined the event with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Arbre à Feuilles. She had decorated her store front and provided free beer, fruit juice and things to eat.
And we played like real amateurs!