At their Blue Note Jazz Festival show at B.B. Kings Blues Club last Friday, they revisited several classic songs such as “Blue Skies,” which singer Svetlana Shmulyian described as the perfect closing song for many of their performances. Shmulyian, a Brooklyn resident, has been listening to jazz since she was a child, gravitating towards voices in jazz specifically. Ella Fitzgerald was one of her idols.
Shmulyian fell into swing jazz after moving to Brooklyn and trying out a number of different genres and gigs. But while she credits the dance and vintage scenes in New York for her involvement with swing jazz, performing classic songs gave her the courage to pursue her own songwriting capabilities. Among the tried-and-true songs, Svetlana and the Delancey Five performed a few original songs from their first album, Night at the Speakeasy, at Friday’s show. Because a lot of the material was developed specifically for Friday's show, the band found themselves venturing into new territory.
“I was terrified to show the songs that I wrote,” Shmulyian said. “We’ve never played these songs in front of a crowd before, but I thought it worked out. It was very special for me.”
If you close your eyes and listen, it’s like your being transported back to the 1920s. Shmulyian’s voice is angelic. The smoothness to her voice partners perfectly with the gritty voice of jazz great, Wycliffe Gordon, who joined the band on stage as a special guest. Together, they embodied jazz legends Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
In many shows performed by Svetlana and The Delancey Five, they are accompanied by dancers from Double Trouble, a dance company.
“One thing that they do is break the barriers of traditional leader and follower roles,” Shmulyian said. “Sometimes the girls lead, sometimes members of the same gender dance together, so they’re really about doing something different with the dance and trying something more urban. And yet, at the core of it, it’s a really nice swing dance.”
Svetlana and The Delancey Five are currently holding a residency at the Back Room in downtown Manhattan, where Shmulyian pointed out that the shows reflect a “very New York night" with dancers and listeners coming together to listen to swing jazz. Feeding off of the crowd in any venue is intoxicating, Shmulyian noted. Since jazz may not be as loud and upbeat as popular genres today, she said it can also be a bit confusing at times as to whether the audience is quiet because they are listening or if they are bored. It’s something the band is still adjusting to.
“I’m still learning and understanding what it all means,” Shmulyian said. “But when we are moving from one part of a song to another, and hear the crowd reacting, it’s like we’re having a discussion and it’s magnificent.”