On Tuesday, March 29th, “Five Leaves Left: A Tribute To Nick Drake” by the Jason Parker Quartet was released. Each day thereafter I wrote at length about one of the tracks – how the arrangement came about, what went down in the studio, thoughts about the performances, etc. Click here to read them all.
Click the play button to listen to the track while reading
“Way To Blue” was the hardest tune for me to figure out how to arrange for the JPQ. Until it came to me. Then it came in one second, as if it was always there.
Nick Drake’s version (which you can hear toward the bottom of this post) is nothing but strings and Nick’s voice. Robert Kirby’s string arrangement is so gorgeous and so iconic that it was very difficult for me to hear anything else happening on this tune. I knew I wanted Michele Khazak to sing on it, and originally thought that’d I’d mimic the string arrangements and just use horns to back her. But that seems too literal.
I struggled with it for a long time, trying to find something that would work. I was hoping to get something down on paper before our gig last August, where we were going to play all the new tunes live for the first time. I had pretty much given up at that point and resigned myself that we just wouldn’t play the song that night.
But that day, as I was in the shower (where I do much of my best thinking), I was singing the lyrics and an arrangement popped into my head, almost fully formed. We’d play the “A” sections with a driving Latin groove, swing our way through the “B” sections, and then go to a rubato feel for the bridge. It was one of those moments where the clouds part and it seems so obvious! I got out of the shower, dried myself off, and went straight to the studio to work up the chart. I knew that I could put the chart in front of the band that night and they’d be able to read it down on the bandstand. That’s exactly what happened and it worked out great!
When we got to the studio we worked out the kinks section by section. When it came to the bridge, we were trying to figure out a way to get from Josh’s solo to Michele’s vocal part. We tried a couple things, and then I said to Josh and the rhythm section “just let it fall apart”. I’m not sure they knew exactly what I meant, but when the got there it worked like a charm! They loose the time, Evan and D’Vonne fall away and Josh sets up the bridge beautifully. That’s why I love playing these cats. With the tiniest bit of direction they know exactly what to do. I’m so happy with how that part came out.
When Michele came back to lay her vocals down, she was a bit apprehensive. Of all the songs she sings on, this is the one we changed the most, and she had a bit of a hard time making the mental shift from the delicate original version to our more muscular one. In fact, when we got to the part after the bridge, I remember her saying she didn’t know how she was going to pull it off. Then, of course, she stepped up to the mic and completely nailed it! That one verse after the bridge is one of my favorite moments of the whole record. The way she masterfully goes from her upper range to her low register, wringing so much out of each word along the way, floors me every time I hear it.
Other great moments on this track: the way D’Vonne sets up the swing sections with such authority and drives the energy of the tune from start to finish, the intensity that Cynthia builds throughout her solo, the way Josh’s solo creeps in under the end of mine and the incredible long line he plays starting at 4:35, and of course, Michele’s performance throughout, particularly on the back half of the tune.
For comparison purposes, here’s the Nick Drake version of the tune:
Tomorrow we’ll talk “Day Is Done”, which is my favorite all-around performance on the record.