An activist student at Berkeley in the '60s, Susannah McCorkle left the United States for Europe, where she says she discovered a part of American music neglected at home.

"Things were too crazy in America. I went to Europe where you didn't have to be a hippie or smoke drugs to be a person. People seemed saner there," says McCorkle. In Paris drugstores she found "prewar American culture. I discovered small group jazz of the '30s and '40s."

It's that small group jazz and modern pop that McCorkle brings to Cates in Alexandria for the next two weeks. In performances that run Tuesdays through Saturdays until March 2, the jazz-pop artist pulls material from her four albums, ranging from Irving Berlin and Cole Porter to Neil Sedaka and Rupert Holmes.

"In my records," she says, "I try to create that small-group rapport that made me fall in love with jazz."

Besides two more albums to be released this year, McCorkle expects to publish a novel she's writing. She says, "I schedule things so I'm singing for a month or two and then writing for a period of time. The two are actually quite complementary: Writing is solitary -- me, a pencil and yellow pad; the other depends on people -- musicians and the audience. Both are ways to be creative."