A guy I knew back in Chicago who was an excellent drummer came over one day and said "I got an illegal fake book." A fake book contains abbreviated sheet music for songs that you’re likely to be asked to play on a gig. It has the melody and chord symbols for each song, from which a musician can come up with a reasonable arrangement on the fly to keep the audience happy and maybe get a tip. In other words, fake it. Kind of like the old joke, which I’ll try to clean up:
A guy is playing piano in a bar. It’s an upright piano, and he has a glass of beer and a basket of peanuts on top. While he’s playing, the bartender’s monkey climbs up on the piano and starts eating the peanuts and dropping the shells in the guy’s glass. At the end of one number, somebody says to the pianist, "Hey, do you know the monkey’s dropping peanut shells in your beer?" The pianist replies "No, but if you hum a few bars, I’ll fake it."
He was exaggerating a little by calling it illegal: It isn’t a crime for a musician to sit down with a record and transcribe what they hear. That’s actually the way most musicians learn. To take that transcribed copy and sell it to someone else, on the other hand, violates copyright, and the seller is liable to the authors and original publishers for compensatory and possibly punitive damages. The book he had, an early edition of The Real Book, had no such information in it. My friend wouldn’t have been liable, anyway, because he bought the book in good faith, and if accosted by a lawyer could plead ignorance, something which came rather naturally to him.
The ability to fake your way through a situation isn’t limited to music, of course. I got a call one afternoon and another trainer asked if I could cover a class the next day, because she was stuck in Boston and couldn’t get to Atlanta because we had snow here (always a dangerous proposition) and they had shut down the airport. I said I would, and drove the 20 treacherous miles from my house to the office and entertained the class until she arrived. She told me that my manager had told her to call me because I could, and I quote, "throw bullshit better than anyone." Talk about your backhanded compliments…