In 2009, Scott Bradlee was a jazz pianist working in New York City and thinking that being a pianist working in New York City wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
So he started posting videos to YouTube.
Before 2005, exactly zero stories of fame and fortune began, “So he started posting videos to YouTube.”
In the future, most of them will start that way.
Idea Sprouted in high school
Bradlee posted jazz arrangements of pop hits to the video-sharing site and they quickly went viral.
Author Neil Gaiman (“American Gods,” “Good Omens”) was an early fan. He tweeted a video to his Twitter followers and it gained 10,000 views in short order, Bradlee told the Poughkeepsie Journal.
“I realized this was such an exciting medium,” he said. “Within one day, more people saw me play on the Internet than they had in real life.”
Thus it was that Bradlee’s mashup pastime morphed into a global touring phenomenon called Postmodern Jukebox that will visit the Embassy Theatre on May 7.
In truth, YouTube didn’t inspire Bradlee’s style of music. High school did.
“When I was in high school, I was getting into really early jazz, stuff like ragtime and New Orleans music and things like that,” he told the Orange County Register. “You can imagine that most of my peers weren’t really into that kind of stuff. They didn’t play a whole lot of ragtime at school dances back then.
“I wanted to be able to share this stuff with my friends, and one thing I wound up doing since I had pretty good ears — I taught myself a lot by ear — I would just kind of pick out pop songs that they liked and turned them into ragtime or jazz and stuff.
“And it was really fun for my friends because they were like: ‘Wait, I recognize this song. How do I know this song?’”
Trepidation on Tour
Bradlee admitted to the Aspen Times that he embarked on his first tour with great trepidation.
“Our first show was in Toronto, where I’d never been,” he said. “We didn’t know if anybody would come. We didn’t know if YouTube views were real people. And we went out to a packed house.”
Bradlee isn’t a parodist like Weird Al Yankovic. He strives to create mashups that stand on their own, that feel inevitable.
“It comes from a real place,” Bradlee said. “It’s a real project in a sort of alternate universe of these songs.”
Postmodern Jukebox has grown so huge that Bradlee has separate European and American incarnations of the group. They tour simultaneously.
“We’ve crafted this variety show where I’m bringing some of the best vocalists and musicians in the world and we’re putting pop music in a time machine for a great celebration of past and present music styles,” Bradlee told the Pensacola News Journal. “I want to make it so that everybody in the world can experience.”
Always enough material
Bradlee said there is a direct line between the 1920s New Orleans jazz that tends to provide the underpinning for his remakes and the songs he remakes.
“It struck me as the beginning of pop as we know it,” he told the Toledo Blade. “If you look at songs written around that time, there are a lot about dancing and partying and it’s the same subject matter in songs today. For me, it’s taking these modern-day songs that you hear all over the radio and translating them back into that time period. It works surprisingly well.”
One thing the future does not hold for Bradlee is a realization that he has run out of material.
“There are so many possibilities,” he told the Morris County Daily Record. “There are many songs and so many styles.”
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