Making modern music in older, creative ways – The Mercury News – The Mercury News

A ragtime version of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” transformed into a 1920s jazz number. A ’70s soul-style rendition of “Colors of the Wind” from Disney’s “Pocahontas.” The Miley Cyrus hit “We Can’t Stop” gets a ’50s doo wop treatment. Have you heard rapper Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” as a swing tune?

This is the modus operandi of Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox. The group’s wildly imaginative performances, giving contemporary hits vintage interpretations, goes way beyond novelty. The music, performed to perfection, sounds fresh and exciting. It’s no wonder that the ensemble has become a YouTube sensation.

“The concept of it is something that people really like,” says the band’s upright bass player, Adam Kubota.

The show at Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 15, will be special for Kubota. He hails from Belmont, so he’ll have a chance to visit with his parents, Mary Jo and Noell Kubota, a Daly City teacher and Burlingame lawyer, respectively, as well as his brother Charles, an Atherton resident who’s involved in the tech world.

Postmodern Jukebox uses a rotating cast of performers. “It’s a collective of like-minded musicians, more than a set band,” Kubota says.

At Stanford, the group will include five vocalists, a tap dancer, plus bass, drums, piano, guitar, banjo, saxophone and trombone.

Kubota is a fixture, having been with Postmodern from the start. He has played hundreds of shows.

At Ralston Middle School, Kubota began by studying cello. He played in the Palo Alto-based El Camino Youth Symphony. Attending Mountain View’s St. Francis High School, he picked up electric bass and played in jazz and rock bands. Then he discovered the upright bass.

Kubota’s first professional gig was a sunrise Easter service in Palo Alto, playing vintage music with Paul Price’s Society Orchestra.

After studying at UC-Santa Cruz, Kubota attended The Hartt School, where he earned his Masters degree in double bass performance in classical music. There he met Scott Bradlee, Postmodern Jukebox’s founder, pianist and arranger.

“Our paths crossed and there was a musical camaraderie,” Kubota says, “a similar approach — We’re going to throw orthodoxies out of the window, anything that’s out there is fair game — classical, hip-hop, pop, show tunes, jazz. Nothing’s materially sacred.”

Playing jazz at restaurants and clubs, they encountered patrons who treated the music as background.

Kubota says, “You start to think, ‘How can we engage these people more?’ So Scott would try to throw in (musical) quotes from different things, something weird. He would turn a jazz song into a Van Halen song for a second. When you turn their expectations upside down, they get a little bit more engaged. And Scott saw something there.“

By 2011, Bradlee was experimenting with making YouTube videos, using that idea in full song performances. In 2013, buoyed by supportive tweets by popular author Neil Gaiman, one went viral. It was Macklemore’s song “Thrift Shop,” performed in a 1930s jazz style.

“It quickly went over a million views,” Kubota says. “It was eye-opening. I had never had that kind of audience for my playing before. And it was a very modest video that we filmed in an Astoria, Queens, apartment, nothing fancy at all, just four people in front of a white wall. But there was something there that people liked and identified with and they shared it.”

Postmodern Jukebox adds a new video every week for its millions of YouTube followers.

“People really respond to us in the videos. We’re all pretty fun people,” Kubota says. “And we project personality, when we get in front of the camera. Sometimes, walking down the street, even in Eastern Europe, people will recognize us. It’s a testament to the power of YouTube.

“And we have fantastic, charismatic performers — New York jazz musicians, people that have been in major roles on Broadway, people that have been finalists on ‘American Idol.’ They’re just oozing with talent. And we put them under this Postmodern Jukebox flag of vintageness and real musicianship.”

Bradlee’s unique arrangements set the band apart. Kubota says, “They’re very creative. And he pays great attention to detail.”

Kubota is a musical focal point in one of the group’s most popular videos, a ’40s-style version of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.”

The original artists often get a kick out of the Postmodern reinventions and tweet about the videos.

Audiences are often as transformed as the songs. Older listeners — Kubota’s mom among them — find new respect for modern compositions. Young people discover a reason to explore vintage recordings.

“In evoking so many different styles, it piques curiosity,” Kubota says. “People have messaged me on Facebook, saying, ‘Because of you, I’ve started playing upright bass.’ To me, there’s no greater honor than inspiring someone to pick up an instrument. Or maybe it’s a young person picking up a Duke Ellington record. If we motivate people to seek out a wider variety of stuff, have a greater awareness, that’s gratifying.”

Whether they’re playing Stanford, Singapore, Slovakia or Sydney, Postmodern Jukebox attracts a diverse audience, ranging from toddlers to seniors. Kubota’s 94-year-old grandmother attended a show and loved it.

Kubota, 38, resides primarily in Los Angeles, but was on the road eight months in 2016. Having earned a law degree, he’ll eventually take the bar exam. But for now, Postmodern Jukebox dominates his schedule. And it’s rewarding.

“To go out and perform in front of giant audiences of adoring people at these music venues is mind-blowing. We played at Radio City Music Hall. That’s a bucket list thing,” Kubota says, laughing.

“How many people in the world get to experience something like that, seeing yourself on the Jumbotron and you’re accompanying all these great singers? It’s such a cool feeling. And we get to do that all over the world. At the beginning of this, back in Astoria, Queens, it never occurred to me that this could happen. It’s gone beyond all my expectations. It’s changed my life.”

Email Paul Freeman at paul@popcultureclassics.com.


Music

What: Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox

Where: Bing Concert Hall, 327 Lasuen St., Stanford

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 15

Tickets: $30-$80; www.live.stanford.edu

Artist website: www.postmodernjukebox.com

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