When Postmodern Jukebox started in 2011, all recordings were captured in a small basement apartment in Queens, N.Y. Much has changed as the Scott Bradlee-led act is now housed in some fancy digs in Southern California dubbed “The PMJ Manor.”
“I don’t think I can say exactly where Scott’s place is,” vocalist Sara Niemietz says while calling from Springfield, Missouri. “It’s near Los Angeles.”
Fans driving by celebrity homes in Los Angeles can listen for pop and rock songs revamped into hot jazz tunes, and they might uncover Bradlee’s pad. Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” is “All About That (Upright) Bass” in Bradlee’s world. Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love” is a jazzy ragtime tune and Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is a piano cover.
Bradlee, 36, is a ragtime player who fell in love with jazz at 12 after discovering George Gershwin. After graduating the University of Hartford 15 years ago, Bradlee toiled in New York City clubs. After a few years on the circuit, he had an epiphany. Bradlee decided to take modern pop songs and transform them into jazz, swing or ragtime numbers.
“I’m amazed that no one ever thought of that before,” Niemetz says.
Bradlee formed Postmodern Jukebox in 2013 and made waves by turning Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” into a doo-wop tune. Music fans discovered his Youtube clip, which became a viral sensation. Altogether, Postmodern Jukebox has racked up 912 million Youtube views and 3.2 million subscribers.
Each week Postmodern Jukebox, who will perform Feb. 21, at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, drops a new video. And this week, they released a new album, their 14th: “Jazz Me Outside, Pt. 1.”
“It’s incredible how many PMJ songs there are,” Niemetz says. “The songs are so different but they’re also so much fun and they’re inventive. One of my favorites is OutKast’s ‘Hey Ya,’ which is recorded in a Motown style. It’s such a natural fit. Scott has a knack for just knowing how to serve a song. It’s fun when we do ‘Hey Ya’ live since I love the call and response part of it. Scott has no problem transforming songs, regardless of the genre.
Bradlee has revamped show tunes, Delta Blues and metal into PMJ songs. “Anything goes,” Niemetz says. “I have no problem with that. But what I love the most is when Scott picks emotional songs. We’re having fun with ‘Time After Time,’ which is transformed into a spare jazz ballad.”
Every once in awhile, an entertainer lets Bradlee know how they feel about being covered in such a manner. “Gloria Gaynor dropped us a line to tell us how much she loved it when we turned ‘I Will Survive’ into a Latin jazz song,” Niemetz says.
Beyoncé shared PMJ’s version of “Drunk In Love” on Facebook. “It doesn’t get any bigger than Beyoncé,” Niemetz says.
Chris Frantz of The Talking Heads raved about PMJ’s version of “This Must Be the Place.”
“When guys like Chris love what we’re doing, it’s just the greatest,” Niemetz says. “How can you top that? We often hear recording artists are surprised what we do with their songs. The possibilities are limitless.”
Indeed. Postmodern Jukebox’s rotating door of musicians keeps it fresh. More than 60 musicians have recorded with PMJ.
“It’s great because this allows us to work with Scott but we can also work on our own projects,” Niemetz says. “We’re all musicians so we have multiple things going on. I’m going to have an album out soon and I’ll be going on my own tour in April. But for now I’m all about PMJ. I’m thrilled to be part of this since it’s so amazing and unique.”
Who: Postmodern Jukebox
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 21
Where: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh
Tickets: Start at $67
Info: 919-996-8700 or dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/