When Scott Bradlee was looking for work as a jazz pianist in Manhattan a half decade ago, the pickings were slim. "It was very difficult to find jobs," Bradlee says. "I did find some work but it was a chore. It's easy to see why that is. There are a lot of jazz musicians in New York City."
But none of them came up with Bradlee's concept. The ragtime player, who fell in love with jazz at 12 after discovering George Gershwin, takes modern pop songs and transforms them into jazz, swing or ragtime numbers.
Bradlee, 34, 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.
"The response was amazing," Bradlee says. "I didn't expect the reaction that it received. It was an experiment that worked. But it all goes back to when I was a kid. I played Nirvana songs as ragtime. That's where the seeds of this project were planted. I thought it would be cool 20 years ago to take these contemporary songs and make them over in a different style. I never in a million years thought that I could have a career doing this."
Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, which will perform Wednesday, Nov. 25, at Parker Playhouse, isn't exactly an overnight sensation. But just two years after forming, the group is headlining theaters around the country.
"It's incredible to go from unknown to where we are now in that short of a span," Bradlee says. "It shows how musicians can do it themselves with the help of the Internet and word of mouth. But in terms of the music, I'm doing what jazz musicians did in the '30s. They would transform pop songs into jazz songs. It's a natural for someone who is a jazz artist, since jazz musicians love to improvise. There is an incredible amount of pop songs out there to play with."
Bradlee and his band already have revamped 106 pop songs. Iggy Azalea's "I'm So Fancy" has been turned into a jaunty tune that screams Flapper era. Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" has been transformed into "All About That (Upright) Bass." Bradlee turned Gloria Jones' "Tainted Love" into a jazzy ragtime tune. He made Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants To Rule the World" into a piano cover.
"I can't express how much fun it is to play around with these songs the way I have," Bradlee says. "It's been a complete blast."
Some recording artists have reacted to Bradlee's jazz treatment. "Beyonce shared the version of 'Drunk in Love' on Facebook, which was incredibly cool," Bradlee says. "That's a really good endorsement. She must like what we're doing if she's sharing it."
Bradlee says that not every pop song is ripe for a makeover. "Some songs just won't work," he says. "Look at Mark Ronson's 'Uptown Funk.' It already has that funk disco feel to it. The song already sounds way back. It's already there, so you stay away from songs like that. Fortunately, there are so many songs to play around with."
Bradlee is an obvious constant, but the Postmodern Jukebox includes a rotating cast of musicians. More than 60 players have recorded with Bradlee.
Every week, Postmodern Jukebox releases a new song. "Every Thursday, you should check us out on YouTube," Bradlee says. "No matter what's going on, we have a new song out there. I love it. I want to stay prolific. We have a deadline that we adhere to. I look at it like we have a new episode every week. We're kind of like this long-running television show."
Recent songs have include Rihanna's "Umbrella," delivered in a cute and clever "Singin' in the Rain" style and Fall Out Boy's "Sugar We're Going Down," rendered big band style.
What song will Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox release this week? "I can't tell you since it's a secret," Bradlee says. "Part of the fun is for people not to know what the song will be. Tune in and find out. That's fun. But if you want some real fun, come to our show."
Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox will perform 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 25, at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $27.50-$37.50. Call 954-462-0222 or go to ParkerPlayhouse.org