Courtesy of Mayers Consulting
Ashli St. Armant is a singer and educator better known as Jazzy Ash, playing New Orleans-style jazz to children around the world. She has also written and narrated audiobooks for young people. And to immerse her many fans in the holiday spirit, she recorded Christmas tunes, including “Zat You Santa Claus”, a classic tune associated with Louis Armstrong.
“He’s from New Orleans and my family has been from New Orleans for at least seven generations, so he’s always been close to my heart,” Ash said. “I love how playful his music is. My job is to introduce children to the magic and improvisation of jazz.”
St. Armant, 37, lives in Southern California where she grew up. Her mother was and still is a nursery school music teacher and ran a daycare center at their home. “It was really crazy and cool having all these little kids, and I was surrounded by children’s music,” she recalls. “I guess that’s how I got into children’s music.”
She studied musical theater in college and dreamed of singing on Broadway. Then she got married, and while raising two sons, she taught music to preschoolers, just like her mother had. Her sons are now teenagers and in October she married for the second time.
For the past six years, St. Armant has performed across the country with his band, Jazzy Ash and the Leaping Lizards. During concerts, she often talks to children about the history of black America. And she shares stories about her family, including her grandfather, who was a civil rights leader in New Orleans.
“They ask me questions about my family like, ‘Does everyone in your family sing?’ I say, ‘Not everyone, just me and my wife, my kids don’t sing.’ And they go, ‘Your spouse? ‘”, she says.” Just crossing America as a queer black woman speaks volumes. What I’m proud of is that I have a way of presenting it in an accessible and fun way. And that way, I think I’m making my grandfather proud. “
Last summer, Saint-Armant contributed to a biographical series entitled Rebellious girls. One of the profiles she shared was with poet Maya Angelou, who was once a streetcar driver in San Francisco. Another story was about Leah Chase, a famous chef from New Orleans who inspired the story The princess and the Frog. Funny anecdote: “My mother went to school with Leah Chase’s daughter, who is also a jazz singer,” says St. Armant.
She also wrote her own original stories for Audible. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to reimagine my own childhood,” she says, “because I spent a lot of my summers and vacations in New Orleans.” Back then, she recalls, she “had no idea that the French Quarter was across the river, and all this amazing food, this rich history, these pirates and all that stuff. And j thought, what if I had the chance to explore this? What if I had solved some mysteries?
Solving mysteries in New Orleans is the premise of a series of young adult audiobooks she wrote about a teenage detective named Viva Durant. In Viva Durant and the Secret of the Silver Buttons, the young detective tries to find a hidden treasure.
St. Armant also collaborates with other children’s musicians. An album she sang on recently, Activate by 123 Andrés (it is uno-dos-tres Andrés) is now up for a Grammy for Best Children’s Music Album. “I know very few artists like Ashley,” says singer Andrés Salguero, “an incredible performer with a just touching, rich and playful voice, and at the same time a writer touching so many young hearts.”
This has been a busy year for Saint-Armant. She recently released her second audiobook Viva Durant, and like Jazzy Ash released an album titled Playground songs, on which she reinvented African-American folk tunes sung by children in the 1920s. For another album, good foot, she drew on the American black sounds of the 50s and 60s. At the moment, she is working on a musical which she describes as “Annie in the Antebellum South “, and she wrote and recorded” Fly Through the Sky “, an original Christmas song.
“This tune is about the magic of the night before Christmas, when you hope to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus,” says St. Armant. “I like all that stuff. I think I still have that magic.”
She really does.