Jazz singer Katherine Byrnes left the University of Arizona to see if music was truly her calling. After numerous adventures in the Big Apple, Byrnes, 23, is again studying singing at the UA, and she just released a self-titled album produced by the student-run label Park Avenue Records. If you want to have a listen, contact Byrnes by e-mail or visit parkavenuerecords.org.

In a lot of the articles written about you, people describe your sound as unique. How would you describe your sound?

I hope it's unique. It's kind of like a big-band singer's voice from the '40s, but since I've grown up in a later era, it has kind of pop connotations and stylistic things that people didn't do back then. I also studied musical theater before I ever sang jazz, so I do have a big voice that a lot of singers who have grown up singing crooning jazz songs or opera don't have. A lot of people tell me I sound like Barbra Streisand, which is not true.


(Laughs.) And a lot of people tell me I sound like Linda Eder. People say Ella Fitzgerald, but I don't scat, so I don't see how that's very relevant. I have a big voice, but it goes from very big to very small, and I like being able to use the whole range.

A friend of yours also said it sounds like you're smiling when you're singing.

That's so nice! I do smile when I sing.

Why'd you move back to Tucson after your stint in New York City?

Well, when I lived in New York, I was a wedding singer. That was awesome, and I wouldn't give that up for the world. But I did realize that in order to do anything, nowadays, you have to have a basic college degree. Just to gain entry into auditions, into any job now--they won't even see you if you don't have a basic college degree. Plus, I had left with the intention that if I didn't make (it big) when I got to New York, then I would be coming back to Tucson. The reason I chose to leave (Tucson) was because I was going to graduate without really knowing if it was really what I wanted to do, because I've never done anything else. So the first year that I lived in New York, I didn't sing at all. I chose not to, just to see if I could find anything else that I'm into. Every performer is told over and over again: If you can do something else that you want to do, do it, because it's so difficult. But I hated not singing; I would get jealous when I saw performers. It was terrible. I realized that I wanted to come back to use what I didn't use at the UA. ... It was really valuable for me to live out in the real world, realize what I needed and then come back.

Tell me about your CD.

I recorded it from 2003 to 2004, and it turned out to be a really, really great product. I'm proud of it, because it was all student-run. It was overseen by Professor (Jeff) Haskell, but all the decisions were finalized by students--all the marketing, all the grant proposals, everything. It's one of three (labels) in the country that are run by students. ... The original idea for the CD was to do songs that have only been done one way, and try to redo them in a different way. An example of that is "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"--you know, the Elvis song. We redid it as a slow bossa nova, and it sounds really cool.

Do you have any plans for after college?

I'd like to go to grad school to study further. I'd like to eventually be able to teach vocal jazz. I'd really like to pursue jazz in another country for a while, because it's huge in Europe and Asia and everything. ... I'd love to find a band, and I'd love to move back to New York. There are so many choices right now.

I bet.

But to move back to a big city right now, I'd need to be going to school or have a job there. Because when I first moved, I didn't have anything. It was awesome, but it was so tough. I moved there not knowing anybody, and I didn't have a job, didn't have a place to live. I slept on the floor of a friend's house and ended up living in this hippie co-op in Brooklyn. I don't regret anything that happened, but it would be really hard to do anything like that again--especially now. I like having a bed and a shower.