Children's artist Jazzy Ash wraps up a busy year with new Christmas songs
Ashli St. Armant plays funky New Orleans-style fare for kids with her band, Jazzy Ash and the Leaping Lizards, and spins mysterious tales in her Viva Durant audiobook series.
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
Ashli St. Armant is a singer and educator who goes by Jazzy Ash. She performs New Orleans-style jazz for children and has written and narrated books for young people. And as NPR's Mandalit del Barco has found, she now has some Christmas tunes.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: In one of her new releases, Jazzy Ash reinterprets a classic.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ZAT YOU, SANTA CLAUS?")
JAZZY ASH: Is that you, Santa Claus?
Louis Armstrong - he's from New Orleans and my family is from New Orleans at least seven generations. So he's always been dear to my heart. I love how playful his music is. You know, my work is all about introducing children to jazz and the magic and improvisation of jazz.
DEL BARCO: The 37-year-old singer lives in Southern California where she grew up. Her mother, a preschool music teacher, ran a day care at their home.
JAZZY ASH: So that was really crazy and cool to have all these little kids. And I was surrounded by children's music. And I suppose that's how I got into children's music.
DETROW: St. Armant studied musical theater in college and dreamed of singing on Broadway. She got married. And as she raised two sons, she taught music to preschoolers like her mother had. Her sons are now teens. And in October, she got married for the second time.
For the past six years, she's performed with her band Jazzy Ash and the Leaping Lizards. During gigs at schools around the country, she often talks to kids about the history of Black America. And she shares stories about her family, including her grandfather, who'd been a civil rights leader in New Orleans.
JAZZY ASH: They ask me questions about my family. Like, does everybody in your family sing? I say, not everybody - just me and my wife. My kids don't sing. And they go, you have a wife, you know what I mean? Just walking through America as a Black, queer woman speaks volumes. But I think what I pride myself on is that I have a way of presenting it in a way that's approachable and fun. And in that way, I think I'm making my grandfather proud.
DEL BARCO: Last summer, St. Armant contributed to a biographical series called "Rebel Girls." One of the profiles she narrated was about poet Maya Angelou.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JAZZY ASH: And Maya was proud because she knew, as long as she used her voice, she could go anywhere.
DEL BARCO: St. Armant has also written her own original stories for Audible.
JAZZY ASH: I thought this would be a cool opportunity to reimagine my own childhood because I spent a lot of my summers and holidays in New Orleans. And I had kind of no idea that the French Quarter was across the river and all this amazing food and rich history and pirates and, like, all these things, and I thought, what if I had had the chance to explore that? What if I had solved mysteries?
DEL BARCO: Solving mysteries in New Orleans is the premise of a series of young adult audiobooks she's written about a teen named Viva Durant.
(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIOBOOK, "VIVA DURANT ADN THE SECRET OF THE SILVER BUTTONS")
BAHNI TURPIN: All Viva really, really wanted to do was go back to New Orleans and learn how to be a sleuth from Graham.
DEL BARCO: This year, St. Armant published her second "Viva Durant" story. And she collaborated on a song with 123 Andres.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BEACH")
123 ANDRES: You know it.
JAZZY ASH: Here we go. Hey.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) The sand.
123 ANDRES: (Singing) You know, the sand's so hot.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) The wind.
DEL BARCO: The song is on an album now up for a Grammy Award. Here's singer Andres Salguero.
ANDRES SALGUERO: I know very few artists like Ashli, an amazing performer with a voice that is so full and rich and playful and then, at the same time, a writer touching so many young hearts.
DEL BARCO: St. Armant has had a very busy year. As Jazzy Ash, she dropped an album that reimagined African American folk tunes sung by children on playgrounds in the 1920s.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN DOWN BABY")
JAZZY ASH: (Singing) Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop. Shimmy, shimmy, rah.
DEL BARCO: This fall, she tapped into Black American sounds from the 1950s and '60s for another album, "Good Foot." St. Armant is now working on a musical she describes as "Annie" in the Antebellum South. And she's written and recorded a new original Christmas song.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY THROUGH THE SKY")
JAZZY ASH: (Singing) Never close your eyes. If you believe with all your might, you will see Santa Claus' reindeer fly through the sky.
That tune is about the magic of the night before Christmas, where you're hoping to catch a little glimpse of Santa Claus. And I think I still have that magic.
DEL BARCO: She really does. Mandalit del Barco NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY THROUGH THE SKY")
JAZZY ASH: (Singing) Maybe... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.