The work of Scott Bradlee & Postmodern Jukebox has been viewed on the
ensemble’s YouTube channel well over a hundred million times. Most of those doing the viewing, however, are not fully aware of the method to Bradlee’s madness.
On the surface, the method is video – clips of full-band performances (that’s
Bradlee on piano,) shot in the bandleader’s living room with a single stationary camera. The madness: pop hits of the present performed à la pop hits of the past. Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” assayed as a doo-wop number; Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” tricked out in flapper jazz; Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” rendered a 1940s big-band standard.
In fact, Bradlee’s method runs deeper. He’s educating his audience about 20thcentury song styles; he’s commenting on the elasticity of the pop form; he’s confounding cultural context; he’s uniting generations; he’s breaking the rules. He’s manifesting postmodernist ideas in his approach to production and business as well as music. But as far as the fans are concerned, it’s just fun (and sometimes funny). Bradlee himself will tell you, simply, “I re-imagine a song in another style because I want to hear it that way.”
Clearly, so does everyone else, as evidenced by PMJ’s presence on concert
stages (stateside and abroad) and Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart, where its selfreleased 2014 opus “Historical Misappropriation” landed in the Top 10 alongside John Coltrane’s “Offering: Live at Temple University” and “All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller.”
This proximity of Bradlee’s outfit to Waller is particularly fitting; the former, a self-taught jazz pianist, considers the latter, an innovator of the Harlem stride style who helped lay the groundwork for modern jazz piano, a key influence, as is Jellyroll Morton, James P. Johnson and Art Tatum.
Which isn’t to discount the importance to Bradlee’s development of Michael
Jackson’s “Bad,” the vinyl incarnation of which was, he says, “the first album I ever loved.” That was when he was six, growing up in Pattenburg, New Jersey, where he moved at four from Nesconset, New York. He took piano lessons, but they didn’t take. Then, at age 12, Bradlee heard “Rhapsody in Blue” and was forever changed. “I got the sheet music and taught myself how to play it,” he recalls. “I started wondering, ‘Where does this come from? What else sounds like this?’”