The Australian Jazz Real Book | an invaluable resource

Australian Jazz Real Book website

Review by Phil Sandford

Andrea Keller leaning into a piano
Andrea Keller – one of the Australian musicians whose tunes appear in the Australian Jazz Real Book

The Australian Jazz Real Book, and its accompanying website, is an important contribution to the development of jazz in Australia.

Tim Nikolsky has collected over 400 compositions by over 160 jazz composers and made them available in both book form or online. Subscribers can access all the charts online and also get new charts that are regularly added to the website.

Nikolsky has tackled the difficult task of giving a representative sample of Australian jazz composition and the size of the book is testimony to the explosion of interest in this field in recent years.

Some may complain about the selection of composers and pieces but Nikolsky already has plans for a second volume and there are already over 60 extra charts available on the website for subscribers to download. In addition, about 30 composers not in the book are being added to the website.

In a feature for both musicians and non-musicians, the website has valuable biographies and links for each composer and a total of over 140 full-length audio tracks available, some going as far back as Brian Brown’s 1958 ‘Digger’s Rest’.

Transposed charts are available for subscribers on request and Nikolsky has started to add compositional notes from some composers. He is also planning to add some solo transcriptions that can be used as material in student exams. The website is also a useful tool for promoting discussion about jazz composition and education.

Jazz fake books first emerged in the 1950s and were treated with reserve by some musicians who regarded them as a poor substitute for the practice of learning tunes by ear. The Real Book, compiled by two Berklee students, became widely known, but there were no royalties for the composers until several legal books were published by Chuck Sher and  Hal Leonard.

New Zealand musicians have had the Kiwi Real Books 1 and 2 and there were a handful of Australian jazz compositions in Jeff Pressing’s 1994 Compositions for Improvisors. But Nikolsky has now provided an overview of the richness and strength of Australian – and New Zealand – jazz in a way that has never been done before.

‘The book and website are designed for the next generation of musicians to gain some appreciation of what has come before,’ he says, ‘and to use that knowledge to extend their own practice and composition. We’re all standing on the shoulders of our forefathers aren’t we?’


Australian Jazz Real Book
Edited by Tim Nikolsky, 662 pages

$100 plus $15 postage
$35 per year for subscribers
More information on the website >