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In the 1950s the Modern Jazz Fake Book, Volumes 1 and 2 was issued, and Fake Book Volume 3, containing about 500 songs, came out in 1961.
Unlike today's fake and "real" books that have "jazz" in their titles, the Modern Jazz Fake Book included no standards, but only original tunes written and recorded by jazz musicians.
Each song in a fake book contains the melody line, basic chords and sometimes lyrics – the minimal information needed by a musician or small group to make an impromptu, extemporized arrangement of a song, or "fake it".
The fake book is a central part of the culture of playing music in jazz, where strong improvisation abilities are expected from "comping" rhythm section players (piano, electric guitar, double bass, drum kit) and "lead instruments" which play the melody and improvise lengthy solos over the chord progression. Sometimes, melodies with syncopation are written with the syncopation omitted, so the reader must be familiar with the songs "by ear" to play the melodies correctly.
All these books have been long out of print, though music students have long photocopied the books from other musicians.
Fake books originally infringed copyrights, and their circulation was primarily underground.Usually chord symbols, titles, composer names, and lyrics were typewritten, but for a number of songs these were all photocopied along with the melody line.