Ashley Kepler is due Nov. 7, but an early arrival would hardly be a surprise. The baby might be ready for a singing gig.
A South Lake Tahoe jazz singer, Kepler was told that as a toddler she sang while riding in her car seat. And her first child, Alyrica, who was born a month early, was just 1 year old when made a surprise onstage appearance.
“I was singing and she walked up to the mic and literally started harmonizing with me,” Kepler said. “I am sure this next little girl will have some sort of musical sense as well.”
Because of pregnancy, Kepler is taking a hiatus from performing. However, she plans to record a couple of songs this weekend in San Francisco with musical collaborator Jimmy Leslie. A tune entitled “Gypsy Soul” has been set for a session for a while. A new tune, “Welcome,” was written by Kepler and Pamela Parker.
“I am going to get Alyrica on the recording of ‘Welcome’ as well,” Kepler said. “She knows it by heart and she sings it every day.”
At the age of 3, Alyrica is on an even faster track than was her mother, who was 5 when her grandmother bought her a karaoke machine.
“When I was a kid, I was always writing lyrics and poems and told my parents that that’s what I wanted to do,” Kepler said.
She sang in the Douglas High School choir and she started a band when she was 18, getting into clubs with a fake I.D. She had classical music training, along with voice and piano lessons, while she attended Mesa College and the University of Nevada, Reno.
“I definitely always loved to sing, that was just innate,” she said. “I always love the sound of B.B. King, and Etta James. Jazz has always for some reason just sounded perfect to my ears.”
Kepler sang jazz standards on cruise ships before landing in Tahoe, where she had a fortuitous rendezvous with Jessica Broyles, a choreographer and owner of Champagne Productions who also happens to have attended Douglas High.
“I was a traveling gypsy and then I fell in love with Tahoe,” said Kepler, who also had fallen in love with Tahoe resident Jeff VanHee. “Meeting him was the reason I moved here and he has greatly fueled my passion for Tahoe through adventures of snowmobiling and mountain biking.”
Broyles and Kepler modeled together in a photo shoot in San Francisco for Vanhee’s business, Tahoe Moonshine Distillery.
“I didn’t know she was a singer,” Broyles said. “During the trip she started belting out tunes, and she’s got the looks, to boot. I wanted to put her in my show.”
That was more than five years ago. Kepler since has been in three of Broyles’ burlesque productions.
When I was a kid, I was always writing lyrics and poems and told my parents that that’s what I wanted to do
Last year, Kepler producer her own show at The Loft in Stateline.
“With the red velvet at The Loft, it was easy to get into character,” she said. “Just one look at the chandelier and go back to another time. Jazz and burlesque, vintage style, they go hand in hand.”
Kepler often performs in San Francisco in four- to eight-piece ensembles that include Jimmy Leslie and drummer Jeremy Hoenig. (Hoenig also plays with Tracorum, which often appears at Tahoe.)
Last summer, Kepler played in a duo, Galaxy, with Reno drummer Bishop Bautista at South Shore venues The Beacon and Tahoe Ale WorX. She has a penchant for putting a jazz take on rock songs such as the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Radiohead’s “Creep.”
“I really feel the need to take pop music — some that the public would be more familiar with — and kind of a tweak it so that they’re still interested in the jazz sound and that vintage sound that they recognize so they’re more apt to listen.
“Being onstage is so much fun because you get to interact with people, get them to laugh and out of their day-to-day.”