How to Read Lead Sheets
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Q. Were there lead sheets before jazz was around?
A. Lead sheets were not invented by jazz players. Shorthand music notation existed well before Bebop was invented. Figured bass from the baroque era served largely the same purpose but instead of a melody line and chord symbols, it consisted of a bass line underneath which arabic numerals served to indicate the intervals to be formed above each bass note by the performer.
Q. What is the backstory of the Real Books used in jazz?
A. Nobody knows for sure but legend has it that the term "real book" is a play on the term "fake book." Fake books were originally books of lead sheets of popular tunes often with awkward harmony. Real Books include tunes associated with jazz. Read more at the Real Book Wikipedia page.