American jazz composer and pianist George Gershwin once stated that “true music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time,” but jazz has taken a backseat – almost foreign to the modern ear. Gershwin realized that all good music will find its way back to the listener. In other words, If you have ever been nostalgic for an era in which you have not lived then you may find familiarity in Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox.
Just as the name implies, Postmodern Jukebox is a project that reinterprets popular songs in the traditional styles of jazz, ragtime, new orleans and blues. PMJ found instant success on YouTube, where they have reached over one million subscribers and their videos have each gained upwards of 12 million views. In the past five years alone, PMJ has covered artists from Madonna, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez to Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Each cover is refreshing and unique not only because of the musicianship and instrumentation, but due to their ability to encapsulate an era – freezing you in time.
“The moment I saw the potential of PMJ was when we did a doo-wop version of Miley Cyrus’ ‘We Can’t Stop’. That video blew up and was the most watched video on YouTube in one day,” said PMJ founder Scott Bradlee. Like most PMJ videos, it features traditional instruments and clothing of the era they are trying to depict. PMJ’s “We Can’t Stop” also features Brooklyn’s Tee-Tones, an a capella doo wop group. “Seeing that reaction made me realize that the public is really interested in this project and the idea became much bigger than we originally thought,” added Bradlee – it has mainstream appeal.
Watch Postmodern Jukebox’s video of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” below:
After you have watched two or three PMJ videos you realize that these guys, and gals, are the real deal. From their ragtime version of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” to Radiohead’s “Creep,” sung as a triumphant ballad proving PMJ is eclectic and diverse. Their Radiohead cover features Haley Reinhart on vocals, Ben Golder-Novick on sax, James Hall on trombone and a tight rhythm section. Reinhart’s vocals are overpowering and the video was cut in one take. Other covers include a Mariachi version of Avicii‘s “Wake Me Up” sung in spanish, a vintage motown take on Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” featuring upright bass.
What makes Postmodern Jukebox different than most is that “we are all live performers first and foremost, then we went back to YouTube,” said Bradlee. It took a few years to find like minded musicians, but now PMJ has more than 50 musicians and artists who have joined them on tour and in their videos. Originally Bradlee grew up as a self-taught jazz pianist. He used to play restaurant gigs and small clubs as background music and has now toured across the country and Europe.
“The whole idea of transforming pop songs into older styles began when I was in school. I became frustrated with the jazz piano scene and didn’t have an outlet to express myself,” said Bradlee. Inspired by staples in jazz like Gershwin, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller and Art Tatum Bradlee “devoured the whole jazz tradition.” In high school Bradlee would absorb “whatever he could get his hands on” like Duke Ellington and was later attracted to R&B and soul. Bradlee would play along to cassettes and CD’s rented from the library in a variety of different styles. In this discovery Bradlee realized that there is lineage of jazz and blues in all eras and styles of music.
His first video was medley of 80’s songs in the ragtime style, and the video instantly went viral. In the last five years with PMJ Bradlee has gotten a crash course in social media and realized there’s another way to get your ideas out – hence YouTube. Although PMJ concepts were present in Bradlee’s childhood he never expected to have worked with such great musicians and talent. “What’s cool about this project is there hasn’t been any rules,” said Bradlee. “The best projects are always collaborations and I am always interested to hear other peoples input because it really helps shape the creative process.”
Now that you have been infected with the Postmodern Jukebox bug, you would expect things to get boring rather quickly – wrong. PMJ is committed to releasing a new video every two weeks, and is now on their first official U.S. tour, which will reach a total of 41 cities across the country.
Last Saturday, May 9th, PMJ performed for a full house at Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT. Their musicianship is only half of the battle. Postmodern Jukebox is more than a cover band – they are entertainment, comedy, fashion and history all in one. The band, and much of the crowd, were dressed in vintage clothing and the vocalist regularly changed outfits to match the era and style of each arrangement. The show was like a time capsule transplanting you to a turn of the century Vaudeville show. PMJ also featured tap dancer and choreographer Sarah Reich who added both musical and visual talent to the show. Reich was named “20 Hot Tappers Under 20” in 2009 and was seen on FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance. Her ability to tap, trade solos and fill in between an already dynamic group was jawdropping.
“Postmodern Jukebox is a variety show, but at the end of the day there is just a bunch of talented people on stage. No matter where we are we want to convey a sense of intimacy and want people to feel like they are at a party back in time,” said Bradlee. With such a wide array of talent Bradlee has been overwhelmed at the positive response from true music fans alike. At first Bradlee was worried that jazz musicians would not dig this project and was surprised at their love and support. “Some of our fans are even metal heads (all they do is listen to metal music), but they love what we do. It has been an interesting journey that is cross-spanning generations,” added Bradlee.
So if you ever wanted to experience the sophistication of these eras, but do not understand it, know the songs or artists behind them then Postmodern Jukebox is your fix for nostalgic, diversity and talent – all in support of hardworking live musicians.
Check out some of our favorite PMJ videos below, and be sure to catch them on tour!