Put an­other dime in Post­mod­ern Juke­box

Per­form­ing Sun­day in West Palm Beach, Scott Bradlee’s en­sem­ble turns Top 40 pop into vin­tage jazz.

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - South Broward - - MUSIC - By Phillip Valys

Strug­gling to land mu­sic gigs as a jazz pi­anist in New York’s over­crowded scene five years ago, Scott Bradlee struck on an old idea he once con­sid­ered a “party trick”: trans­form­ing cur­rent pop songs into jazzy throwback ar­range­ments. Bradlee re­mem­bers fall­ing for stan­dards as a 12-year-old in New Jer­sey af­ter hear­ing a record­ing of Ge­orge Gersh­win’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” For kicks, he would sit at the pi­ano and take the then­cur­rent ’90s sin­gles that his friends en­joyed and rein­ter­pret them as retro-sound­ing songs.

“In or­der to get gigs for my­self, I had to cre­ate my own work,” Bradlee re­calls, speak­ing by phone from Los An­ge­les. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I … made a show based around tak­ing all th­ese cur­rent song, and reimag­in­ing it, like, What if all th­ese artists were alive back in the ’50s or ’40s and wrote those songs then? How would it sound?’”

Scott Bradlee’s Post­mod­ern Juke­box, which he formed in 2013, sounds like mod­ern pop coated in vin- tage gloss: Pit­bull and Kesha’s sin­gle “Tim­ber” reimag­ined as a doo-wop stan­dard; Gwen Ste­fani’s “Hol­laback Girl” con­verted into 1940s swing; Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” as a smol­der­ing lounge cover; and Justin Bieber’s cur­rent Bill­board chart-top­per “Love Your­self” as a 1920s New Or­leans rag­time tune.

Mu­sic videos on Post­mod­ern Juke­box’s YouTube chan­nel (nearly 2 mil­lion sub­scribers) de­pict singers out­fit­ted in flap­per dresses and pin­striped suits, per­form­ing to­day’s hits in yes­ter­year style. Most of the videos have gone vi­ral, av­er­ag­ing mil­lions of views, and it started when Bradlee re­leased a doo-wop cover of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” the day af­ter the singer’s in­fa­mous twerk at the 2013 MTV Video Mu­sic Awards.

“[ The Cyrus video] showed up on the front page of YouTube,” Bradlee, 34, re­calls. “I think it tapped into cur­rent nos­tal­gia. Miley Cyrus did her con­tro­ver­sial per­for­mance, but this was like the op­po­site, in some ways: squeaky-clean doowop. What I love about this project is it’s mak­ing peo­ple think, ‘What makes a good song? What de­fines it? If a song is done in a dif­fer­ent style, what does that mean?’”

Post­mod­ern Juke­box’s per­for­mance on Sun­day at SunFest 2016 will fall two weeks af­ter the band sel­f­re­leased its 12th al­bum, “Swing the Vote!” via iTunes. Bradlee’s act has grown so pop­u­lar that two ver­sions of Post­mod­ern Juke­box are cur­rently tour­ing the world (the Euro­pean tour vis­its Den­mark that week). Bradlee won’t con­firm that he will ap­pear with the band at SunFest, but says “it’s a pretty strong pos­si­bil­ity.”

Even the mu­si­cians Bradlee cov­ers share Post­mod­ern Juke­box’s songs on so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing Gwen Ste­fani and Ce­line Dion. For SunFest, Bradlee says, “There’s so many pos­si­bil­i­ties. We’ve got ev­ery­one from Du­ran Du­ran to Alabama Shakes, Meghan Trainor [at SunFest]. I’m open to all kinds of ideas on­stage. If Meghan is read­ing this, tell her to hit meup.”

The ros­ter of pickup mu­si­cians has also swelled in size, with 50 mem­bers join­ing Post­mod­ern Juke­box since 2013, lured by the nov­elty of mak­ing new mu­sic sound old-fash­ioned.

“Our mu­si­cians re­ally en­joy it be­cause it lets them en­ter the pop-cul­ture space while en­joy­ing some of the mu­sic they loved,” Bradlee says. “Au­di­ences might not know any­thing about jazz or the his­tory of Mo­town, but you’ll sing along with our jazz re­makes be­cause you know the lyrics. It’s mak­ing jazz main­stream again.”

So far, Bradlee says, Post­mod­ern Juke­box has recorded “al­most 140 Juke­boxed songs,” mostly from his New York liv­ing room. The songs are re­leased ev­ery Thurs­day via his YouTube chan­nel.

Bradlee ad­mits that YouTube’s im­me­di­acy drove him away from tra­di­tional record la­bels.

“It’s a crazy amount of mu­sic in three years,” Bradlee says. “Some­times, we’ll do two videos a week be­cause it felt right, which means a lot of dead­lines. But I get a lot of ideas from Twit­ter fol­low­ers, other mu­si­cians. In ev­ery case, the way you nail a cover in the Juke­box style, you want to say some­thing new about the song, but change the con­text so it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

MICHAEL WEB­BER/COUR­TESY

Scott Bradlee’s Post­mod­ern Juke­box will per­form 3 p.m. Sun­day on the Tire King­dom stage at SunFest.

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