21 April 2013


My project to collect hundreds of tunes played by traditional jazz bands and to store them in mini filofaxes never ends. I enjoy making my own lead sheets in miniature and being able to carry so many tunes around conveniently. Likewise, every newly-added tune slots easily into its place in alphabetical order.

Generally, I can get a complete tune on to one page of mini filofax, though the more complicated multi-part pieces, such as rags, sometimes run to three pages.

Open up one of these delightful little books and this is the sort of thing to be found.

Most musicians play from large sheets of printed music on a music stand, so my system would not work for them. But for my purposes, as an aide-mémoire, the mini filofax is ideal.

I attempt to play the keyboard and the cornet, and my repertoire is limited to popular music, mostly from the period 1850 to 1965. More than half the tunes have choruses in a 32-bar structure, and it is easy to get 32 bars on to one mini filofax page – even easier if there is some repetition that can be indicated as such  (usually in the first and second ‘eights’).

Is it really possible to get the whole of Climax Rag on to a lead sheet that is just two sides of one mini filofax page? Yes.
I use only the MINI size because I want portability, simplicity and minimalism. I start with a blank page. I rule stave lines and leave sufficient space between the staves to enter further information, such as chord names and repeat signs.
All I need are the notes of the tune and the letters representing the chord changes. When I’m playing the keyboard, I improvise the chords in the left hand.

Sometimes, if I need the lyrics too, I also write out the words.

By the way, you can watch a beautifully-judged performance of Tuba Skinny playing Climax Rag in January 2016 BY CLICKING HERE.

Where do I find my tunes? I have a sack full of buskers’ books and old printed music. If I need a tune that is not in a book or available on the Internet, I try to pick it out by ear and – using my keyboard – work out the harmonies for myself.

When my friends and I get together to play, we do not use sheet music. We allow for plenty of improvisation. So we do not need music stands, either. However, we all do our homework first; and that means learning the tunes before we get together.

So I take a mini filofax with me whenever I’m travelling. While on the bus or train or having my mid-morning coffee in one of our excellent cafeterias here in Nottingham, I learn a tune or two.
When playing with my friends, I sometimes keep tunes handy, just in case I need to check something.