Before Kim, Scott Bradlee made a play to break the Internet in 2010 with a self-recorded video of the jazz pianist and some friends performing a bluesy cover of Lady GaGa’s “Paparazzi” under the moniker Postmodern Jukebox, which has racked up hundred of thousands of views. Now touring internationally with a crew of rotating musicians, he releases a new video of a popular song—ranging from Miley to the White Stripes—covered in an old-timey style to legions of YouTube fans each week. We checked in with Bradlee before Postmodern Jukebox stops at the Wang Theatre on Oct. 6.
How did Postmodern Jukebox come about? It was something I did as a kid. I loved old styles of music, ragtime, jazz, Motown, all those things. I was a pianist, so I played them all. And of course my friends didn’t know any of that stuff; they listened to pop music, Eminem or whatever. But I wanted to still be a part of that conversation, so I’d take the songs that they knew and turned them into styles that I love. At the time, it was just kind of a fun party trick. Later, I moved to New York and was trying to find work as a jazz pianist, and I found that it was pretty hard to get people excited about jazz. So I set up a video camera in whatever basement apartment I was living in and recorded myself playing these things that I used to do, playing pop songs as ragtime. And as luck had it, the very first one that I did went viral.
So do you credit YouTube for your success? Yeah, I think it was a project that could only really break on the Internet in some ways. I think if I’d told some record label about this, they’d be like, “Well, there’s no way that can be a thing. That sounds so niche.” What was great about going directly to fans is that I could connect to them in a way that I’d get ideas from them, and it became something that fans took ownership of.
Have you received any criticism from the “serious” jazz community? I think they’ve been pretty welcoming overall. Most people can see that getting people interested in jazz in any way is a good thing for the community as a whole. I hear from a lot of people, like, “Yeah, my jazz band was doing this tour and we had, like, three Postmodern Jukebox cover bands open for us.” So it’s certainly resulted in a lot of work for a lot of people, and it’s just cool to see kids come to the show and then write to me saying, “I’m so inspired now and I’m checking out Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald and all these greats that influenced you.”
What have been some of your favorite covers of late? We did a doo-wop version of “MMMBop” recently. It seemed like such an obvious thing, like doo-wop/“MMMBop”— how has this not been done? And we did a 1920s kind of New Orleans thing with Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself.” I had released a version of it in black-and-white, kind of like the 1920s, and a lot of people thought it was an actual song from the era and were sharing it around Facebook—no joke—thinking that Justin Bieber had ripped off this song from 1929. [Laughs.]
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