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
“The Thoughts Of Mary Jane is one of the tunes we changed the most from the original version. Nick Drake’s recording is typically built around his guitar playing and a beautiful flute line. I don’t know where the idea to do it as a samba came from, but as soon as we played it the first time it brought a smile to my face. As austere as the original is, ours is fun and bouncy!
As we were rehearsing for our first gig playing these tunes, I asked Cynthia Mullis if she’d consider playing flute on it. She hemmed and hawed, saying she hadn’t played her flute in a long time and such. I didn’t press it, as she didn’t seem into the idea at all. Over the ensuing months, I might have mentioned it once more, but pretty much let it go. Cynthia is fabulous on the tenor sax and I knew she’d do a great job on that horn.
So, we get to the recording studio, and Cynthia is still playing tenor on this tune. She asked if she could overdub the intro, which seemed like no big deal. So we cut the tune, she soloed on tenor, and all was good. This was actually the last tune we put on tape, and as everyone else was packing up and saying their goodbyes at the end of three long days of recording, Cynthia sheepishly came up to me and said, “You know, I brought my flute with me.” I couldn’t believe it! I hadn’t even considered that possibility! Of course, I was thrilled, and told her so.
After everyone had left, Cynthia pulled out the flute and started warming up. I joined Doug Haire in the control room and told her to take a stab at it. She had transcribed the flute line from the record and tried to play that over our samba version of the tune, and it just wasn’t working. The stiffness of the original line just didn’t mesh with the loose samba feel. I suggested that she just play what she felt over it, perhaps alluding to the original but making it her own, based on what she was hearing. That’s all it took, and she was off!
This has turned out to be one of my favorite tunes on the record because of Cynthia’s great playing on flute. She captured both the vibe of the original and the vibe of our version all in one! And then when she comes in on the tenor to solo she kills that too. Gotta love it.
It was also Cynthia’s idea to overlap the tenor and trumpet solos a bit, giving a little variety to the way we transitioned. And it was fun to blow with her at the end too. I even slipped in a quote of one of my favorite Charlie Parker Tunes.
For comparison purposes, here’s the Nick Drake version of the tune:
Tomorrow we’ll talk about track 8, “Man in A Shed”, one of the few first-take tunes on the record.