What If? Why Not?
Sometimes a lot of the things you love most are channeled into one project. It is exceptionally rare and incredibly exciting. VOI-LA is just such a project. Jen Gies grew up surrounded by music: church choirs, pop radio, and an older brother worried about keeping first chair in orchestra. By junior high, she was singing instrument lines from pop songs (much to the annoyance of friends who 'just couldn't hear it') and also playing or creating parts by ear on flute or guitar. A few years later she discovered jazz and fell in love with it. Having taken Spanish and finding it too easy, Jen chose Northwestern University based on the Arabic language program it offered. Upon attending her first linguistics class, she knew she had found what she'd unknowingly sought as an academic for years. Jen's involvement with NU's Vocal Jazz Ensemble for two years fulfilled a longtime dream and gave her introduction to the world of studio recording. At one point, VJE performed a chart of a Paul Simon tune which had been transcribed and arranged for a cappella voices. Later that year, though she didn't know it at the time, Jen Gies's VOI-LA was born: she transcribed and arranged a Sting tune for voices. The next year, she had the opportunity to produce it at the Chicago recording studio at which she worked, then thought no more of it until Bela Fleck's music crashed into her life like the proverbial ton of bricks in 1995. It was the same 'Eureka!' of discovering linguistics, but the impact was a hundredfold. Having learned phonetics (how the human vocal apparatus works and what it is capable of), Jen took on Bela's music-which was completely instrumental at the time-and made it all vocal: the voice as instrument. The project was named VOI-LA (Voices or Instruments? Laryngical Arrangements). Jen arranged a total of 12 tunes: the original three Sting tunes she started off with in 1990, and nine from the recordings of Bela Fleck. Although she had wanted to use a core ensemble to record most of the parts, the collective fell apart when she moved from Chicago to Nashville in 1997. She resorted to recording many of the parts herself. Fortunately, she found two excellent drummers for the Flecktones-proper songs (the only non-voice instruments on the record) and a couple of guys who sing like a cross between Jon Hendricks's singing and Victor Wooten's playing. The title of the album was going to be 'Why Not?' but once Bela told Jen he had considered naming the first Flecktones album 'What If?', the title of VOI-LA's record became 'What If...? -Why Not?'