Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox – The New Classics
(Concord Records/Postmodern Jukebox Records. CD Review by Jane Mann)
Scott Bradlee is an American pianist and arranger, originally from Long Island but now based in New York City. As a teenager, whilst his contemporaries listened to ’80s and ’90s pop, he listened to jazz and Motown. He went on to study jazz at the University of Hartford, and then started gigging in restaurants and nightclubs in New York, where he had the idea of arranging and performing contemporary popular songs as old jazz tunes, especially jazz from the ’20s and ’30s. He says: “I just wanted to make music in the classic styles of ragtime, blues, swing, doo wop, and Motown that I loved as a kid… all captured the way music was recorded in the Golden Age of the record industry: with everyone together, in the same room.”
He recorded some digital albums, but then decided to share his musical experiments online. In 2013, Bradlee and a rotating cast of musicians and vocalists, performing as Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ), began to play a new song each week, recorded live in a single take in Bradlee’s living room, and then posted on YouTube.
Brownlee reckons he draws from about 50 singers and another 50 instrumentalists for performances and recordings. In an era when popular songs are filled with technical tricks, he is particularly proud to state: “The vocalists sing every note live, without any tuning help. The musicians make every sound you hear on stage and in my living room with the instruments you see them playing. That doesn’t matter to everyone, but it matters to us and I believe it matters to our fans. We do it the old fashioned way and we love every second of it.”
But what a tantalising experience it is listening to this live recording! It is like overhearing a celebration in an adjacent room that you can’t get to, where you suspect glamourous people are partying as if it’s 1929, to paraphrase Prince, and living that life of “jazz and cocktails” which Billy Strayhorn sang about. At one point there is even tap-dancing. Listening to tap dancers without being able to see them is as frustrating as overhearing fireworks without seeing any of the pyrotechnics.
I include a tracklist, to give you some idea of the range of songs which Bradlee and his band cover, from the witty Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass to dance-around-your handbag club classic I Will Survive, via tunes by Taylor Swift, and Soundgarden. There is a version of Cyndi Lauper’s ballad Time After Time, famously also covered by Miles Davis. I enjoyed the lively version of Rihanna’s Umbrella, sung by one of PMJ’s many fine vocalists, Casey Abrams, accompanied by the band and two tap dancers, played as a lively rag-time number with a clarinet doing New Orleans counterpoint over the top. Some arrangements are unlikely, but work surprisingly well, like My Heart Will Go On, the ballad from the film Titanic, a hit for Celine Dion, which in Bradlee’s world is an up-tempo doo-wop number. Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop becomes a big old New Orleans blues, and you get a chance to hear the brass and reeds doing their thing. Only the singers are credited on the CD, so I can only guess at the band members as Bradlee has so many to choose from.
I hope some of you are able to go and see PMJ on their current European tour, because their show sounds like a lot of fun.
Track list with vocalists:
Meet the Flinstones
All About That Bass (ft. Casey Abrams, Dani Armstrong, Maiya Sykes & Ariana Savalas)
Bad Blood (ft. Aubrey Logan)
Time After Time (ft. Sara Niemietz)
My Heart Will Go On (ft. LaVance Colley & Aubrey Logan)
Singing In The Rain (Interlude Music)
Umbrella (ft. Casey Abrams & The Sole Sisters)
Halo (ft. LaVance Colley)
Bye, Bye, Bye (ft. Aubrey Logan, Ariana Savalas & Sara Niemietz)
Don’t Stop (ft. Maiya Sykes)
I Will Survive (ft. Sara Niemietz)
Black Hole Sun (ft. Haley Reinhart)
Stacy’s Mom (ft. Casey Abrams, Ariana Savalas, Dani Armstrong & Cast)