Most acts that come to Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) are pretty self-explanatory—a Broadway star one week, a pop music sensation the next—then there’s Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ), a wildly popular rotating musical collective. “It’s not a typical band where it’s like four people. Nope, it’s like hundreds of people, popping in and out,” says frequent PMJ singer Robyn Adele Anderson.
PMJ debuted on YouTube in 2011, when Bradlee, a music arranger and jazz musician, and some friends began posting videos that reimagined today’s popular songs in the genres of yesteryear, such as ragtime, jazz and Motown. “PMJ started off as a group of friends that all already knew each other,” Anderson says. “But of course everyone, especially musicians in a big city, has their own network of other musicians that they know for a fact are really talented and they can recommend, so basically if one person wasn’t available to do a video, they would recommend their friend…Scott has built this extensive roster of musicians and singers to pull from. He tries to keep it rotating so everyone can have a turn and a chance to be a part of it.”
Anderson met Bradlee after seeing him perform jazz in New York City, and the two struck up a friendship that involved many a karaoke night, leading to Bradlee realizing that his new friend was an untapped source of singing potential. “As much as I loved music in high school and college, I certainly never thought it was a realistic career to pursue,” she says. “I was doing exactly what I went to school for, exactly what I wanted to do, and I thought, ‘Well, for the music stuff, I can always just do karaoke. Even the idea of an open night was scary and terrifying.”
The PMJ YouTube channel was met with moderate success in the beginning, until Anderson joined the collective for a grandpa-style cover Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” in 2013. The video quickly went viral, garnering over one million views in its first week (at the time of writing, it sits at 15.6 million views). The album containing the song, Introducing Postmodern Jukebox, reached No. 8 on the Billboard Jazz album chart. From there, the musical collective saw a substantial increase in followers, video views, shows, editorial features and guest performers.
Though many factors contributed to the success of PMJ’s “Thrift Shop” cover, including the then-popularity of the song and the improved visuals compared to previous videos, it can’t be denied that Anderson’s stunning vocals played a major part as well. Surprisingly, she hadn’t considered herself musically inclined up to that point. “The funny thing is, I wasn’t even a singer before I started singing with them. I actually worked in the nonprofit sector and was on a completely different career path,” Anderson points out, alluding to her social work with the ANSOB Center for Refugees. “It was just a happy accident that happened.”
Similar to the wild, lavish parties found in The Great Gatsby, PMJ shows encourage audience members to dance, sing along and dress for the occasion, although Anderson explains that outfits from any decade are welcome. “Or you can come in your pajamas—there are no rules,” she quips.
“No genre is off the table—it’s not just Top 40 songs, we’ll do songs that were popular in the ’80s and ’90s, and we’ll cover them in a genre that is the complete opposite of the original,” Anderson explains. “I think maybe people come expecting to see some nice, classic jazz, but then we’re singing Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus,” she says. “But it still sounds like music that’s familiar and nostalgic to them. I think that’s the reason why people of all ages love Postmodern Jukebox.”
Party with Postmodern Jukebox at WHBPAC on August 4. For tickets and more info, visit whbpac.org.