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Sounds of jazz moves Moscow's Svetlana Shmulyian to sing
Svetlana and the Delancey Five will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at The Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center at 331 Spring St. SW in Gainesville. It is part of the Evenings of Intimate Jazz concert series.

Svetlana and the Delancey Five
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18
Where: The Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center, 331 Spring St. SW, Gainesville
Cost: $30 for individuals, but are sold out; additional seats available in atrium; waiting list started
More info: 770-534-2787 or

As a child growing up in Moscow during the Soviet Union control, Svetlana Shmulyian listened to jazz, describing it as an “exotic” thing that countered the official Communist regime.

Yet, the music was popular. And her passion for jazz continued through to her adulthood and eventually became her profession.

She explained jazz ties her as the musician to the audience.

“It doesn’t matter: the money or time or place,” she said. “It’s about this beautiful magnificent energy created by the musician and audience.”

Before becoming a professional musician, Shmulyian studied vocal performance and earned a Masters of Arts degree from the Manhattan School of Music in New York. She is now an adjunct faculty member of psychology and research at Columbia University.

Shmulyian will take her musical talent from New York and bring it to Gainesville for the Evenings of Intimate Jazz concert series at The Arts Council’s Smithgall Arts Center.

Shmulyian and the Delancey Five will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, at 331 Spring St. SW in Gainesville.

Tickets are $30 for individuals, but are sold out, according to The Arts Council website at Additional seats are available in the atrium the night of the concert and a waiting list has been started. Interested patrons must call 770-534-2787 to be added.

Shmulyian spoke to The Times about her musical career in jazz and her aspirations to move people through her music.


Question: When did you know you wanted to sing professionally?

Answer: I just wanted to sing. The professional part comes and go. Music was all around me … I was listening to different kinds of music from the radio and TV and on records. At some point, I started singing along, and the next day I’d start singing by myself.

Q: Why did you pursue jazz of all genres?

A: When I listened to jazz on the record, I was just moved by the swing of it and the voices I heard very much inspired me, and I started listening to more and more of that music.

Before leaving Russia, I sang all types of music. I sang classical and pop and Broadway style music. At some point, I wanted to study more contemporary genres, and I was moved by jazz in particular.

Q: Who are your musical role models?

A: This question is really making me stop … It changes every day. There are role models I’m moved by, but for vocal jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. Her voice is amazing.

I recently saw a video of her in the mid-1990s and she started singing a little shaky, but 20 seconds into it and she was good ol’ Ella. And her voice was cracking, but it was incredible and in that way, she continues to be an inspiration.

I’m also moved by other vocalists from that era such as Anita O’Day and Billie Holiday.

I am inspired by contemporary jazz vocalists who are out there working super hard, performing at a huge jazz festival one night and a small restaurant the next.

Q: What do you hope people take from your music?

A: I hope that my music takes people on a magical journey, even if just for a moment, it takes them away from the place they’re in right now and elevates them into a different place.

That’s what music does to me and why, among many reasons, why I wanted to make music. My goal as a musician and artist is to take something that isn’t there before and create it in this time and space and travel somewhere together and come back and create magical moments.

Q: What drew you to New York City?

A: I was very young and I received a scholarship from The New School in New York City to study nonprofit management. I was involved in those at home and I jumped on it.

I decided to pursue a more formal education in music and composition, like how does this music come together from an intellectual point of view.

Many years later, I went to the Manhattan School of Music and received a graduate degree in jazz performance. I remember walking through the gates at the airport in New York, and the sun falling on my face and I was like, “Wow, I’m at home.”

Q: How do you think playing in a small town like Gainesville will compare to your usual atmosphere in New York City?

A: I don’t think it matters where you play. It’s about creating something alive together on stage with people, hoping to have an audience that appreciates it.

It’s different playing a concert opposed to a club or a restaurant where people are out to have a good time but not necessarily just to listen to jazz.

It’s a big honor to have people come see you and listen to you and be with you, whether it’s New York City or Gainesville or the moon. Jazz is a social music in that it’s enhanced by audience participation and listening and creation. It doesn’t matter where you play.