There’s so much genuine heart and soul to Svetlana Shmulyian‘s rendition of “Happy” – the song Pharrell Williams made ubiquitous as part of the soundtrack for 2013’s Despicable Me 2 – that it transcends a mere designation of cover song. Thanks to Rob Garcia’s arrangement, Svetlana’s elated delivery in brilliant conjunction with the smoky smooth vocals of her esteemed duet partner Wycliffe Gordon (whose trombone work also adds a sense of skillful play), and the laid-back accompaniment of her jazz ensemble, the pop earworm here takes on new form, rising to an upper echelon of joy.
“Happy” is only one of many cinematic cuts Svetlana sculpts into new works on album Night at the Movies, her recent tribute to the magic of the big screen. Alongside recent fare like “Happy”, she features such classics as “Moon River” and “Over the Rainbow”, paying tribute, she says, “to a century of movies and the hopefulness they brought to my life”.
The message Svetlana conveys through “Happy” is particularly clear and poignant. “I conceived the song rendition [of ‘Happy’] as a life-affirming, foot-stomping dialogue between two friends who reassure each other that happiness is in your hands despite whatever obstacles you face,” Svetlana explains. “The song and the video center around the playful, bluesy jousting of the interlocking vocals in the style of lifelong friends Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong – and images of a friend group happily dancing together in the middle of ‘somewhere on Earth.'”
Certainly, the visuals in Svetlana’s new video are delightful, bouncing between perspective plays (the aforementioned group walking between foregrounded Pringles cans or across shoelaces as if they were a tightrope, which Svetlana refers to as a “‘down to earth – literally! – perspective'”) and studio shots. The latter make it clear that both she and Gordon are having a wonderful time, surrounded by brilliant sound (John Chin’s cascading piano solo has a particular sparkle to it) and good vibes.
The video’s sentiments and themes couldn’t be more timely. “With Valentine’s Day and Oscars Sunday coming up,” says Svetlana, “I intend for this friendship- and positivity-centered perspective of the world to pick people up, just as movies and music have always filled me with inspiration and hopefulness.”
Wednesday February 5 – Blues Alley Jazz Club, Washington DC
Friday February 7 – Regattabar, Boston, MA
Sunday February 9 – Blue Note, NYC