My favorite part of the musical Gypsy has always been when Tessie Tura, Mazeppa and Electra teach Louise, the demure rookie, that’s she’s going to have to do something unique if she wants to stand out from the crowd. “Gotta get a gimmick, if you wanna get ahead,” the three trill as they dance with their trumpets and lit-up costumes. It’s a fun, bawdy scene, but it also instills a sturdy bit of show-biz common sense that is just as applicable today as it was years ago.
Now, I can’t say if Scott Bradlee, of Postmodern Jukebox, has ever seen Gypsy (though I’m willing to wager he has), but he, along with a rotating band of musicians who perform with him, has found his gimmick. After college, Bradlee struggled and succeeded to varying degrees in New York City’s jazz scene and started looking for inspiration elsewhere: namely, the radio. Using the idea that you can make the new old again, Bradlee takes modern pop hits and arranges them in styles more associated with yesteryear, such as dixieland jazz, doo-wop, classic country and swing. He isn’t turning his back on the jazz world; rather, he’s following it to a creative yet logical conclusion, by taking and manipulating a new set of standards–not those from the Great American Songbook, but those from the Billboard Hot 100 charts. He’s taking new classics and making them newer–by making them sound older.
Bradlee started with a medley of ’80s songs done in a ragtime style, which garnered the attention of Neil Gaiman (via a tweet), and further earned some buzz when he released his project, A Motown Tribute to Nickelback, but it was with Postmodern Jukebox’s “grandpa style” cover of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” that he received his first viral video. With more than one million views in its first week, the song made its way to #8 on the Billboard jazz charts. Renditions of Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya!” followed.
Though the group has pulled in millions and millions of views, they are not just a YouTube sensation. Postmodern Jukebox has performed on Good Morning America and toured throughout the United States, Europe and Australia. They even co-headlined the Dubai Jazz Festival along with Sting, Toto, Chris Botti and David Gray.
Bradlee and company will be playing at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Friday, October 21st, at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $43.25.