For over 15 years, Svetlana Shmulyian has been a successful management consultant in the private sector and a lecturer at New York University and Columbia University on management research methods and statistics. She holds several degrees, including a PhD in Organizational Psychology as well as an MS in Nonprofit Management and a BS in Mathematics.
But this mother of three is also an accomplished jazz singer, songwriter and composer whose new album, Night at the Speakeasy, will be released on January 15, 2016. Shmulyian’s debut with The Delancey Five combines swing-era classics with swing arrangements of modern “standards” by The Beatles and The Beach Boys and original tunes written by Shmulyian and her bandmates. There’s even a song by Russian-German trumpeter/composer Eddie Rosner, sung by Shmulyian in her native tongue.
The album was produced by Grammy award-winning Guy Eckstine, son of Billy Eckstine—legendary American jazz vocalist and bandleader of the swing era. The Delancey Five, an all-star band noted for their work in the straight-ahead and modern jazz, accompanies: Adrian Cunningham on reeds, Charlie Caranicas on trumpet, Dalton Ridenhour on piano, George Delancey on bass, Rob Garcia on drums, Vinny Raniolo on guitar. Acclaimed jazz vocalist and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon—who arranged several of the songs—also appears with Shmulyian in several duets on the album.
Garnet News spoke to Shmulyian to find out more about Night at the Speakeasy, an eclectic mix of hot jazz and swing that conjures images of a long-lost world of back-alley speakeasies, frenetic dancing, bathtub gin and tommy gun-toting gangsters. Shmulyian’s winsome vocals transport you back to a place and time far away.
Garnet News: Tell us a little bit about you for those who don’t know.
Svetlana Shmulyian: I am lucky because I have all kinds of different lives that I’m leading at the same time, that flow in and out of each other. I’m a full-time musician, a jazz vocalist, a band leader, and a songwriter and composer. Music is at the forefront of my professional life right now. But I’ve also had a long career in consulting. I started out as a mathematician, you know, and a math teacher.
When I came to the United States twenty years ago, I went straight down a business career path. I was good at my work, and I loved it, but I also had an artist in me. Several years ago, I decided to drop everything and focus on music. So I went and got an MA in Jazz Performance from Manhattan School of Music. Laughs. I’m also a mom with three girls ages 12, 8 and 6. So, like I said, I’m managing all these “careers” simultaneously! Laughs.
When I first landed in New York, I didn’t really have any family here or friends. But New York proved to be very welcoming in ways that I needed it to be and really allowed me to develop as an artist. New York kicks your butt like no other place in the world does. You have to work very hard to achieve your dreams, but it also inspires you.
Garnet News: You have an album coming out on January 15. Why jazz?
Svetlana Shmulyian: As a girl in Russia, I studied classical piano and vocals—and sang in various choirs, including a classical choir that performed a lot of Russian Orthodox music. But I’ve always been attracted to jazz music, ever since I was a child. I had stacks of old records by Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone at home, and when I first listened to them, something spoke to me. Ella really was my early inspiration and heroine. I was just so in love with her voice, and from a classical perspective, whatever she did, to my ear, was perfect!
I knew I had a nice voice and tone, but I really didn’t fit into the mold of a classical soloist. Whenever I sang a cover or a jazz tune, though, I suddenly felt right at home. I realized that my voice was just better suited to that kind of singing and storytelling.
Garnet News: The new album is called Night at the Speakeasy. Tell us about it.
Svetlana Shmulyian: Night at the Speakeasy is grounded in the traditional swing idiom. Svetlana and The Delancey Five has been part of the hot jazz and swing scene that has developed in the last several years in New York City, particularly at The Back Room, one of the two remaining speakeasies in the city. This album pays homage to that scene. So the music is great for dancing but is also layered enough to be listened to. At least we hope so. Laughs.
Garnet News: You said it’s a mix of standards and new music. Can you tell us more about that?
Svetlana Shmulyian: We wanted to mix some of the swing classic standards that we love to play and our audiences love to hear—like Lady Be Good, Tea for Two—with songs arranged specifically for the album, like You Won’t Be satisfied Until You Break My Heart. I also wrote two swing songs with a “little big band” feel—All I Want and It’s All Good—and co-wrote, Temptations, with Juno Award-winning bassist Brandi Disterheft. Our drummer Rob Garcia wrote another, Dance In Between The Moments, which is dedicated to our swing dance followers.
Garnet News: How long did it take for the album to come together?
Svetlana Shmulyian: It took three years, and three days! In the studio, it took us just one day to record the instrumentals, and another day to do the vocals. Then a few more hours to mix and master. Everything needed to be done quickly and efficiently because, as indie artists, we were really watching our budget! But I say three years because it took the band playing together that long to complete the journey, to record the full debut album.
After the band had been playing for a while, I met trombone player Wycliffe Gordon, and invited him to join me at several of my live performances. He just had a natural chemistry with the band, and his style of singing and playing lifted the music to a different level. Over time, Wycliffe became a mentor to me, as he’s been to so many other artists. He’s the one who encouraged me to write some songs and to record the album in the first place.
My friend, Julia Svertchuk, an incredible artist based here in New York, drew the cover for the album. On the outside you see Norfolk Street where The Back Room Speakeasy is located. And when you open the cover, you can see the people inside, talking and drinking at the bar and ready to dance. It all came together in a beautiful way.
Garnet News: Who would you like to work with?
Svetlana Shmulyian : Here in New York, in jazz, we’re so lucky because we get to play with the big players who come to the city, in between their big engagements and tours as well as the new and talented younger players. You know, you can listen to a triple Grammy-winner in a small basement jazz club and say, ‘hey, I really dig what you do.
These are the people I play with, this is my music. I’d love for you to be on my recording.’ And then it happens. So I really don’t have a goal to play with a specific “name.” I like to play with musicians who are excited about my music and want to be in the moment with me, whether we’re playing at the Blue Note or a small neighborhood bar. It’s all about connection to the music, and the connection to other musicians. It’s all about being true to the music, and about being true to yourself.
Night at the Speakeasy will be released by Origin Records on January 15, 2016 at BB King’s Lucille’s in Times Square at 8pm. For more information visit, Svetlana and The Delancey Five on Facebook or click here for a sample of their music.