Born on Long Island, NY on September 19, 1981, Scott Bradlee was the perfect age to be heavily influenced by the music produced in and around that decade. This leads one to believe that he may have been inspired by the post-disco period, the emerging hair metal scene, or even grunge. No, Bradlee fell in love with jazz after hearing George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue at the age of 12. Okay, nothing unusual about a young man from Long Island getting interested in jazz and embarking on a career as a piano playing, music arranging jazzophile. What about him exploding into the YouTube universe by producing multiple viral music videos as he has done since 2013? No, again, nothing unusual here. Bradlee wasn’t the first nor will he be the last to gain musical notoriety via the internet. What separates Bradlee from the herd is how he became a YouTube sensation.
As a working musician in the New York jazz scene, Bradlee began looking for inspiration. He realized that his passions, old ragtime and jazz piano, might not be as popular today as they may have been in the F. Scott Fitzgerald era. Working off-Broadway and at restaurant piano gigs, Bradlee experimented by adapting various types of music to his musical styles of interest. By 2009, he was ready to record and release his version of 1980s popular music arranged for ragtime piano (Hello my Ragtime ‘80s). The vision of where he wanted to take his music grew and evolved with the release of Mashups by Candlelight (2012). He continued tinkering with his formula which led to his 2013 CD A Motown Tribute to Nickelback that reworked the music of Nickelback with a 1960s R&B twist.
With the template now in place for what is now known as Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (or PMJ for short), Bradlee created his first surge of internet buzz with his arrangement of Miley Cyrus’s hit We Can’t Stop featuring the vocal group The Tee-Tones. Viral videos bring national attention and Bradlee began to get calls from mainstream media outlets like NPR and Good Morning America. Bradlee ended the year with a visit to Cosmopolitan Magazine’s New York office where they filmed a mashup medley of the popular music PMJ had been recording in 2013 subtitled ‘Just another day at the office’. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=FStVXiu-0bQ ) . All of that activity in one take!
PMJ’s CDs produced since the Nickelback tribute include Mashups by Candlelight, Vol. 2 (2013), Twist is the New Twerk (2014), Clubbin? With Grandpa (2014), Historical Misappropriation (2014), A Very Postmodern Christmas (2014), and Selfies on Kodachrome (2015). I am not exactly sure when PMJ had time to record another new CD for release in 2015 (Emoji Antique) as there have also been extensive tours conducted both here and abroad during this time. The ever ambitious Bradlee’s goal is to release a new video track every week so there has to be some time left over in his busy schedule for arranging and rehearsing. The quality of and choreography done for these clips indicates they don’t just set up the cameras and start filming.
I have in no way done justice to the number of entries on Bradlee’s YouTube channel nor the massive number of views he has accumulated. In fact, when I previously wrote about the PMJ collaboration with Puddle’s Pity Party (covering Lorde’s Royals), I mistakenly said the clip had already garnered over 200,000 hits since it was released. That part is true, but I didn’t realize I used the count from a more recent reposting of the video by someone who had (like me) recently discovered it. In truth, the Puddle’s track had garnered over 8 MILLION hits by September of 2014, making it the second most watched video on PMJ’s YouTube channel at that time. Bradlee has also been providing music for segments of the video game industry which opens an even larger audience for his work.
His collaborators come from all over the entertainment map: the world of jazz (saxophonist Dave Koz), country music (Emily West), American Idol (Haley Reinhart who finished third in season 10), theater (Shoshana Bean – Elphaba on Broadway in the musical Wicked), Minnesota (Adriana Savalas – the daughter of the late actor Telly Savalas who was raised in Minnesota after her father’s death. She began as a singer/songwriter in Los Angeles before transitioning into jazz and some acting), and of course we can’t forget our old friend Puddles (Big Mike Geier) straight out of Atlanta, Georgia. If you take the time to check out the flood of videos available at the Postmodern Jukebox YouTube channel, you won’t be alone. As of 2014, Bradlee’s YouTube Channel “Postmodern Jukebox” was listed as #42 on NewMediaRockstars‘ “Top 100 Channels.
This isn’t exactly a ‘retro’ trend. Old things get recycled to become the ‘next thing’ all the time. This is not like that. While the stylings are old school, the PMJ way of retooling pop songs and the live performance videos are kind of refreshing. The mashup videos alone contain multiple song snippets , choreography, rotating musicians, and even some recurring characters like Tambourine Guy, all of which points to someone taking the time to script out these spontaneous looking events
Like most musical styles and things that go viral, this will run its’ course but I have a feeling that Bradlee will have cooked up something else to keep him inspired. I find it interesting that while he is in all of the videos posted by PMJ, he is seldom the center of attention. What a concept: take popular music, throw it back to the 1920s, make very cool, modern viral videos and become an internet star without actually being the focus of the videos! Way to go, Scott Bradlee!