—Emile Hassan Dyer,
Dance of the Voice, Los
“I’ve watched Virginia grow into a special voice in our community of musicians. She’s studied with the vocal masters — Bobby McFerrin and Rhiannon — and taken their lessons to heart.
— Scott Freeman ,
Born in Virginia, V-A (her nickname) grew up in Florida and became an internationally recognized music therapist. Some of her first public performance were with a jazz ensemble that featured Jaimoe, legendary drummer for the Allman Brothers Band. The two friends spent hours at Jaimoe’s home listening to jazz greats like Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington and Nina Simone. After moving to Atlanta she assembled her own band and became increasingly interested in world music and spontaneous musical creation. “I have consciously looked for ways to incorporate the free improvisation work into my music; it adds freshness to the standards”, she says. “I wanted something primitive, yet forward…Most shamans are musicians, and most musicians are shamans, whether they know it or not.”
“Virginia is committed to growing her heartfelt, jazz influenced vocals at the same time as she happily shares her knowledge about the healing that is evident when song is sung into a circle of singers, into the air, all around us.”
“There are hundreds of jazz standard singers but very few add the spiciness of tribal, the elegance of complete sophisticated good taste in applying shamanic energie!”
—Katia Leonardo, jazz and Fado vocalist, Portugal
Ask V-A how her second album differs from her debut—the acclaimed jazz CD VA from 2012—and she immediately responds that it represents a deeper and richer part of her. “All I really want to do is get closer and closer to the essence of me,” she says. “I feel that if I can share that part of me, there must be those who will resonate with it, too.”
Indeed, the music from the debut album of the Atlanta-based vocalist resonated with listeners all over the world. V-A’s newest project, Interior Notions, is a complex and nuanced record that goes deep into her being.
There’s plenty of the straight-ahead sound that got VA played on jazz stations from Atlanta to Chicago, from France to Australia. But these arrangements carry primal imprints and the record is marked by the free improv singing that V-A carries forward from such mentors as Rhiannon and Bobby McFerrin. “I have consciously looked for ways to incorporate the free improvisation work into my music; it adds freshness to the standards,” she says. “I wanted something primitive, yet forward.”
Her take on the jazz standard “Nature Boy”—covered by artists ranging from Sinatra to Miles to Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga— is a prime example. V-A takes the Nate “King” Cole classic places it’s never gone before with a full free improv treatment that, at 15 minutes, is longer than even Coltrane’s version. The song opens with V-A’s free-style vocal sounds backed mostly by drummer Marlon Patton. When Kevin Spears chimes in on the kalimba, the track suddenly veers from wordless improv into the familiar melody of “Nature Boy.”
V-A describes that arrangement and the one on the title track— which was wholly improvised in the studio—as having a bit of the shaman. “Most shamans are musicians, and most musicians are shamans, whether they know it or not,” she says with a laugh.
There’s also a gorgeous arrangement that brings together Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” with the Julie London classic “The Meaning of the Blues” and features pianist Kevin Bales setting the latenight mood. It features a solo by Spears playing the Kaossilator, an electronic instrument akin to a pocket synthesizer. The project also pays tribute to one of V-A’s heroes, Abbey Lincoln, with a lovely version of “Throw It Away.”
In recent years, V-A has drawn inspiration from circle singing, an ancient tribal technique based on repetition and rhythm in a spontaneously improvised choral style made contemporary by Bobby McFerrin. As evidenced on the lead track, “Say Ladeo,” that primal urge has informed V-A’s jazz aesthetics on Interior Notions. “With this project, I kept wanting to get back to the elementals of me—to sing the essence, the bones of my existence,” says V-A. “Somehow, the universe keeps saying ‘yes,’ so I will too.”