Jo bites the Big Apple
Twelve months after releasing her debut CD I Want To Be Happy, jazz vocalist Jo Lawry is indeed happier than she's ever been.
Fresh from performing with childhood hero Sting, Jo is still in the process of carving out a career as a vocalist based in the epicentre of world jazz, New York.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Music (Jazz) in 2000 and First Class Honours in Jazz Performance in 2001, Jo left for New York in 2003 as one of the most promising jazz graduates from the Elder Conservatorium of Music.
Since then she has coupled a slowly burgeoning performing career with the demands of further postgraduate study.
Armed with twin prestigious scholarships - a Fulbright Scholarship awarded by the Australian-American Fulbright Commission, and the University of Adelaide's highly coveted George Murray Scholarship - Jo completed a Masters degree in Music at Purchase College, a campus of the State University of New York.
She is currently studying for a Doctor of Musical Arts at the New England Conservatory.
In itself, this would be a challenging workload, but Jo has also found time to perform and record with many notable performers, including Fred Hersch, Kate McGarry, Donny McCaslin and Bobby McFerrin.
Add writing and recording her first CD, I Want To Be Happy, released in 2008 (and available through iTunes or CD Baby), and it adds up to an ever-growing resume.
And, of course, there's Sting.
"Working with Sting has been my number one fantasy gig since I was about 15," Jo said.
"Just being in New York was an important start. He was looking for NY-based singers for his new project, and a friend had auditioned, got the gig and recommended me for the remaining slot. I did a couple of auditions and made the cut. I was overjoyed.
"The experience was everything I could have hoped for, and more. He is such a spectacular musician, a tremendous bandleader and the consummate professional - I can honestly say that every moment working with him is a joy."
Jo worked with Sting for his latest project, If On A Winter's Night, including performing songs from the CD for a live DVD recording at Durham Cathedral in England, and live performances on US late-night staples, The Today Show and the Late Show with David Letterman.
For her own CD, a recent 4.5-star review in Downbeat, the highly respected jazz magazine, meant sales have started to pick up more than 12 months after being released.
"I had taken so long to finally put a record out, that it felt more like a relief than anything!" she said.
"I did almost nothing to promote it at the time, as it was a bit of a crazy time to do it. I was right in the middle of taking the mammoth qualifying exams for my doctorate, and putting together my final doctoral recital.
"So I just 'set it free', as it were and let it do its thing. So 12 months later I hadn't sold many, but getting 4.5 stars in Downbeat is fairly rare, and that's meant some more sales and more interest in what I'm doing, which is gratifying.
"I'm currently more focused on putting out the next one - I got a lot of things out of my system musically with I Want To Be Happy and I'm excited about making an album for which I haven't got any prerequisites."
For Jo, carving out a successful career in New York has required sacrifice and plenty of hard work while never losing sight of why she wanted to be there.
"New York is a tough town for anyone to exist in as an artist," she said. "I think you need to love what you do, and you need to make sure that just trying to survive doesn't eclipse the reason you came here in the first place.
"That can be really hard; the times when I've allowed paying the rent to come before making the music have been the times I've come closest to leaving New York.
"Recently I've made some tough decisions, such as reducing my teaching hours in order to devote more time to creating music. The result is that, though I still live in a tiny basement studio, I'm happier than I've ever been.
"I'm certainly far from a big industry success in the conventional sense of the word, but I'm extremely satisfied with and excited by the path I'm on - and tomorrow morning my goal will be to get up and work at making sure it stays that way."
STORY BEN OSBORNE