Rant ‘N’ Roll: Svetlana And Wycliffe Are The New Ella And Louis

New York, NY—Ella Fitzgerald [1917-1996], born in Virginia and raised in New York City, came out of Yonkers to join Chick Webb’s big band before hitting stardom as a solo. Louis Armstrong [1901-1971], born and raised in New Orleans, hit stardom in Joe “King” Oliver’s band in Chicago. Their 1956 Ella and Louis project (Verve), backed by the Oscar Peterson Quartet, is a seminal album in American culture.

Downstairs at B.B. King’s Blues Club on 42nd Street is Lucille’s Bar & Grille, a bi-level joint with great acoustics, strong drinks and good-looking waitresses. On June 24, as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, Svetlana & The Delancey Five played their usual delicious mix of prohibition-era jazz on into 1930s swing but on this special night, had trombone man/vocalist Wycliffe Gordon with them to add to the Delancey Five’s front line of clarinet, saxophone and trumpet. The result was a live version of that seminal album plus some surprising choreography from the fabulously swinging Double Trouble Dance Troupe.

It all made for a perfect storm of a night that encapsulated the kind of enchantment you can see for yourself on the cable series Boardwalk Empire where 1920s Atlantic City audiences can be seen dancing, romancing, drinking, grooving, laughing and having the time of their lives. And that, right there, music fans, was the kind of night it was. One for the ages. Hey, I’m a one-set man, no exceptions (usually). This night was so magical and so perfect, I stayed for both sets and wanted a third. It felt like I was starring in a period piece movie. That’s how authentic it seemed. Plus, I fell in love.

Svetlana Shmulyian was born and raised in Moscow, Russia, where she prized her Ella, Sarah and Billie albums. They were hard to get but her parents were jazz fans. She knew she had to go to New York City, the jazz capital of the world. When she stepped off the boat near Ellis Island, it was like the scene in Brooklyn where Eilis Lacey, complete with one sorry suitcase, first entered into the NYC blinding sunlight. She’s made a name for herself since singing hot jazz and cool ballads with that once-in-a-lifetime voice of hers.

Wycliffe Gordon, besides being the kind of wholly entertaining trombone player and vocalist that will steal the show every time, is a musician’s musician of the highest order. A composer, conductor, arranger and educator with 17 CDs as a leader, eight more as co-leader, and dozens more as a sideman to such heavyweights as Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Tommy Flanagan and other stars, Gordon blows big with the kind of stageside sass to where you just cannot take your eyes off of him.

When these two duet, sparks fly. Taking from the Ella and Louis album, as well as their own songbooks, they put on two stunningly transcendent performances that should have been filmed and sent up into outer space just in case aliens want to know about the best music that humankind has to offer.

That’s how good it was.

Night At The Speakeasy is the debut CD from Svetlana and the Delancey Five. It’s a 2016 Top 10 entry no matter the genre. You can see her downtown most Mondays at The Back Room just off Delancey Street. It’s one of only two New York speakeasies left from the dark days of prohibition. Gangsters like Meyer Lansky [1902-1983], Dutch Schultz [1901-1935], Arnold Rothstein [1882-1928] and Bugsy Siegel [1906-1947] held meetings there.

Rob Garcia, Michael Hashim, Ben Paterson, Mike Sailors and Scott Ritchie are Svetlana’s Delancey Five and they put the strut in her step. They’re all consummate musicians and can swing on a dime, providing the joyous accompaniment and raucous solos that make Svet sweat. It’s a groove. I must see them again. Soon.