If you don’t know the name, you definitely know the hits he recycles.
Scott Bradlee, formerly a down-and-out jazz pianist struggling to pay the bills, clearly found his own Midas Touch. Taking modern pop songs, he infuses them with the melodic flavors of bygone eras to give them new life. Covering songs in the style of ragtime or 20’s jazz club swing, it’s a bit like Bradlee blows some dust onto an album to give it a “new oldies” vibe— but it totally works. With over 2.8 million subscribers on YouTube and a worldwide following of millions more, seemingly everything he releases goes viral. And now, Bradlee’s taking his act on tour… sort of.
Bradlee, the innovator of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, a group of now 40+ talented musicians, sees himself as Walt Disney. At this point, his creation has grown beyond him and become fluid— an infinite concept. Bradlee seldom tours with the group anymore— in his words, he “pops in and out.” He’s busy innovating and finding new members to carry out his vision, ideas like turning Miley Cyrus’ massive hit “We Can’t Stop” into a Motown-esque doo-wop (17 million+ views on YouTube), and having a 7-foot-tall clown with operatic range sing “Royals” by Lorde (20 million views). In an upcoming performance at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox will share a double bill with the famous traveling a capella group Straight No Chaser on Friday July, 14. We thought we’d check in with Scott to see what’s going on with remaking the past into the future of music.
Have you ever been to Toledo before? No, actually, that is a new one.
Do you get to stay and check out the city? Generally, our tours are pretty “jump in, jump out.” I like to say it’s kind of like getting the Whitman’s Sampler of seeing the world. You get about four hours before the shows to go wander and check out everything you can, but after that, it’s crunch time. We get to see a broad overview of each city. So if you have any recommendations…
Our Zoo is pretty hip. Have you ever played a zoo before?
No, that’s crazy!
So how did Postmodern Jukebox come to be? It grew out of a hobby I had when i was a kid. I was really into jazz and ragtime when I was in high school. My friends were all into pop music, so to kind of enter their world, I would take the songs they loved and I would put them in a genre that I liked and play for them. So I’d take a Red Hot Chili Peppers song or a Sublime song and play it as jazz on the piano. It was a fun party trick and always got a great reaction. Then I went to become a jazz pianist in New York City. It was really competitive and really hard to get any work. I was living in a basement apartment and couldn’t really pay my bills. And I decided to revisit that thing I used to do. It was around the time YouTube was starting up, and I put myself on YouTube and played this medley of 80’s songs done as ragtime. And it went viral pretty instantly. And I realized there’s something here.
How do you choose which songs you cover? My whole thing is, I pick songs that are familiar to a lot of people, so they get that sort of Postmodern Jukebox effect when they hear it. They go, “Wait a minute, I know this song, what is it?” And I like to pick songs that remind me of something else earlier. Or I look at the lyrics and I can make some kind of connection to the past. A good example is “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” the ‘80s Guns N’ Roses hit. But when you look at the lyrics, it’s just a blues song. So I imagined what this song would sound like if it was recorded in the blues era, 1920’s New Orleans. I found a singer that could really nail the style. When you hear it, it sounds like the same song, but the context has changed, so it sounds brand new.
What song gets the biggest reaction when you go on tour? A lot of our favorites are pretty well loved. “All About That Bass” is one of them. We’ve recorded two different videos of it, and both times they went viral. It’s a fun song because it gets to show off all the individual cast members and it’s All About That Bass, so we have a fun bass solo. There’s not enough songs in the world that have walking bass solos.
Do you ever hear from any of the original artists? We do. The first celebrity endorsement was Beyonce. It doesn’t get much cooler than that. We’ve gotten tweets and messages and whatnot from Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Meghan Trainor, Lorde, the list goes on. We even had Kevin Spacey introduce us in Paris. He was at the Paris show and he came up and did a little soft shoe number and introduced the band. It’s definitely fun to get that celebrity love.
How many different singers do you bring on the tour?
I think we have about six singers on this tour. And the goal when I cast them is, I look at the talent that we have on the channel and try to put a balanced cast together. So we’ll have a singer that has a great jazz voice and we’ll have a soul voice. Someone with great power and tone, someone that is a great entertainer and pretty hilarious.
What’s your ultimate goal?
Our goal is to bring our music to as many people around the world as we can. By doing these shows, we see how many people want to see real music and real talent. There’s a real hunger for this organic experience in this autotuned age.
Catch the show as part of the ongoing Live Nation Summer Concert Series at 7:30pm on Friday, July 14 at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater, 2700 Broadway St., 419-385-5721. toledozoo.org/summer-concerts