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 Gagaâs âBad Romanceâ transformed into a 1920s jazz number. A ’70s soul-style rendition of âColors of the Windâ from Disneyâs âPocahontas.â The Miley Cyrus hit âWe Canât Stopâ gets a ’50s doo wop treatment. Have you heard rapper Notorious B.I.G.âs âJuicyâ as a swing tune?
This is the modus operandi of Scott Bradleeâs Postmodern Jukebox. The groupâs wildly imaginative performances, giving contemporary hits vintage interpretations, goes way beyond novelty. The music, performed to perfection, sounds fresh and exciting. Itâs no wonder that the ensemble has become a YouTube sensation.
âThe concept of it is something that people really like,â says the bandâs upright bass player, Adam Kubota.
The show at Stanfordâs Bing Concert Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 15, will be special for Kubota. He hails from Belmont, so heâll 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 whoâs involved in the tech world.
Postmodern Jukebox uses a rotating cast of performers. âItâs a collective of like-minded musicians, more than a set band,â 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 Viewâs St. Francis High School, he picked up electric bass and played in jazz and rock bands. Then he discovered the upright bass.
Kubotaâs first professional gig was a sunrise Easter service in Palo Alto, playing vintage music with Paul Priceâs 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 Jukeboxâs founder, pianist and arranger.
âOur paths crossed and there was a musical camaraderie,â Kubota says, âa similar approach â Weâre going to throw orthodoxies out of the window, anything thatâs out there is fair game â classical, hip-hop, pop, show tunes, jazz. Nothingâs materially sacred.â
Playing jazz at restaurants and clubs, they encountered patrons who treated the music as background.
Kubota says, âYou start to think, âHow can we engage these people more?â 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.â
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 Macklemoreâs song âThrift Shop,â performed in a 1930s jazz style.
âIt quickly went over a million views,â Kubota says. âIt 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.â
Postmodern Jukebox adds a new video every week for its millions of YouTube followers.
âPeople really respond to us in the videos. Weâre all pretty fun people,â Kubota says. âAnd we project personality, when we get in front of the camera. Sometimes, walking down the street, even in Eastern Europe, people will recognize us. Itâs a testament to the power of YouTube.
âAnd we have fantastic, charismatic performers â New York jazz musicians, people that have been in major roles on Broadway, people that have been finalists on âAmerican Idol.â Theyâre just oozing with talent. And we put them under this Postmodern Jukebox flag of vintageness and real musicianship.â
Bradleeâs unique arrangements set the band apart. Kubota says, âTheyâre very creative. And he pays great attention to detail.â
Kubota is a musical focal point in one of the groupâs most popular videos, a ’40s-style version of Meghan Trainorâs âAll About That Bass.â
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 â Kubotaâs mom among them â find new respect for modern compositions. Young people discover a reason to explore vintage recordings.
âIn evoking so many different styles, it piques curiosity,â Kubota says. âPeople have messaged me on Facebook, saying, âBecause of you, Iâve started playing upright bass.â To me, thereâs no greater honor than inspiring someone to pick up an instrument. Or maybe itâs 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, thatâs gratifying.â
Whether theyâre playing Stanford, Singapore, Slovakia or Sydney, Postmodern Jukebox attracts a diverse audience, ranging from toddlers to seniors. Kubotaâs 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, heâll eventually take the bar exam. But for now, Postmodern Jukebox dominates his schedule. And itâs rewarding.
âTo 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. Thatâs a bucket list thing,â Kubota says, laughing.
âHow many people in the world get to experience something like that, seeing yourself on the Jumbotron and youâre accompanying all these great singers? Itâs 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. Itâs gone beyond all my expectations. Itâs changed my life.â
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What: Scott Bradleeâs 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