FACETIME- Gayle force: Little Kurner has power vocals

To look at her, you might not guess Susanna Kurner could belt out Wagner with the best of them. The lithe 31-year-old says she's used to people expressing surprise at her vocal prowess.

"I used to sing opera at a restaurant in La Jolla," she says,"and people would always ask, "How does such a big voice come out of such a little person?'"

A 1998 graduate of the Manhattan School of Music and an early 2006 arrival to Charlottesville, Kurner says her singing interest peaked early. "Before I could even talk, my mom was singling some Crystal Gayle song, "Don't it Make My Brown Eyes Blue," Kurner says."She said I was singing along before I could even talk."

The singing baby eventually learned to do far more than babble crossover country.

"I can sing in French, German, Italian and Czech," Kurner says, pointing out that singing in a language is not the same as speaking it fluently. "I know what I'm singing about," she explains, "and know how to pronounce it."

And while opera was her first love, Kurner has more recently shifted her musical focus. "I did an opera competition in the Czech Republic, got to go see Prague," she says, "then decided to focus on jazz, because that's really where my heart is."

Influenced by crooners Julie London, Anita O'Day, and Ella Fitzgerald, Kurner says she's also keeping her language skills alive à la chanteuse Dee Dee Bridgewater.

"She's singing jazz songs in French, so that's been an inspiration to me," Kurner says. "Right now what I really want to do is tour Europe and play jazz clubs in Paris."

While she hasn't booked any Parisian performances, she has sung locally at Starr Hill and Fellini's #9, where she'll appear again in September.

"She's classically trained, so that comes off in her singing, as well as having an older jazz crooner style of singing– comparable to Billy Holiday's," says guitar player Sam Wilson, who performs with Kurner. "I think she definitely has a vibe on stage, very good stage presence."

In between performances, Kurner says, she's put up a couple of tracks on her website, zannajazz.com. "People have asked me for CDs," she says, "so it's definitely time for me to get that in the works"

The young chanteuse is also focused on building her songwriting skills and learning the Alexander Technique, a bad habit-breaking and tension-smashing way to improve physical action

Kurner does some teaching of her own– even for those who've been told they're tone deaf.

"They may not be the next American Idol star," she says, "but they can at least learn enough to sing with radio or get up to do Karaoke."

Susanna Kurner