Cold frame for improvisation

Jazz musicians have long made handy use of so-called fake books. The best fake books condense a musical piece to one page. Full of popular songs and jazz standards, the fake books (and their now legitimate progeny, The Real Book series and other versions) allow the musician to gather the key, chords, melody, and lyrics at a glance to cover the piece close enough for recognition and loose enough to improvise and produce something new – new each time, for the cover sheets are cold frames for improvisation. Don’t be fooled by the word fake in the title; musical knowledge and familiarity with an instrument are prerequisites to successful fake book playing. But regular fake book playing improves a musician’s comprehension and capabilities.

Kenneth Koch might have had fake books in mind when he came up with the idea that eventually became his books Wishes, Lies, and Dreams and Rose, where did you get that red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children. In the introduction to Rose, Koch said he “taught reading poetry and writing poetry as one subject. I brought them together by means of ‘poetry ideas,’ which were suggestions I would give to the children for writing poems of their own in some way like the poems they were studying” (pp. 3-4). So we get the question for the rose from close readings of William Blake’s “The Tyger” and “The Sick Rose.”


There are no fake books for writers. Still, writing is learned while writing, and a good writer is a good reader. Reading and writing brought together as one subject form frames for improvisation.

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