“I love mixing different genres together to make a completely new sound for my audience to hear,” soulful singer LaVance Colley. Colley is one of many performers of Postmodern Jukebox, the brainchild of pianist and arranger Scott Bradlee. For years after studying jazz at the University of Hartford, Bradlee experimented with ragtime and jazz arrangements of pop tunes from the ‘80s (and even recorded some self-released digital albums) and started posting these experimentations on YouTube in 2009. Since, Postmodern Jukebox’s big-band has played swinging takes on well-known radio hits in contemporary pop, rock and all genres in between.
Colley joined Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) after a former musical director, Todd Schroder, called him in to emcee and tour with the growing family of performers three years ago. “At that time I had never even heard of the group,” he admits, “but I quickly did my research, and decided to say ‘yes.’ The first show I did was completely sold out, with over 3,000 in attendance, and I thought to myself, I can get use to this!” (laughs)
Postmodern Jukebox’s last release of songs in “The Essentials” features hits by Miley Cyrus, Radiohead, Beyoncé, OutKast and more—all performed in a mashup of vintage swing, doo-wop, soul and blues. Their 2018 tour will bring them to CFCC’s Wilson Center for a one-night run Thursday.
While Colley’s artistic style would normally differ from PMJ’s world of big-band standards, he loves the blending of genres and mixing urban music with electronic and soul. Colley started his tenure with a rendition of “Halo” by Beyoncé—which was an instant success and now approaches 5 million views on YouTube.
“At first I didn’t like what we came up with for the song,” he admits. “I actually came to Scott’s house with a list of songs to sing, and we were both thinking I was going to sing ‘Unbreak My Heart’ by Toni Braxton, but we both decided to try ‘Halo’ a second time after singing through my list. . . . I am still thinking about trying to do ‘Unbreak My Heart.’ I think it would be great to add into the set sometime. I think the song would resonate with a lot of people; it’s just so epic!”
While hits remain comfortably recognizable for audiences, PMJ plays the covers so they stand firmly apart from their original versions. Unique twists and turns get constructed, such as in “Halo.” Bradlee wrote and arranged a bass piano intro and Colley added different nuances to the chorus, such as the doo-woppish, “I pray you won’t fade away / Halo, hey / Halo, halo, halo / Halooooooo.”
“We felt it made the song our own,” Colley tells. “It really is a 50/50 process.”
Colley’s high tenor easily goes up a few octaves for a finish worthy of Queen B.
Aside from his work with PMJ, Colley also released an a cappella cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” on YouTube.
Colley travels the world with PMJ, along with roughly rotating 50 vocalists and musicians these days. Together, they build grandiose cover concepts from humble beginnings at Bradlee’s home. Each artist comes with a list of potential songs to sing. The trick is each artist and Bradlee putting their PMJ mark on what works.
“We will literally sing through all of the songs and [Bradlee] will change the songs on the spot to give it his PMJ style,” Colley says. “Whatever song we decide sounds best is the song we choose to record and put out on his YouTube channel. Sign, sealed, delivered!”
PMJ has seen upward of 70 different performers in its tenure. Depending on who joins the cast, songs are switched and changed at any given time. Each singer has their own repertoire, so it can be difficult for Bradlee to design a set list for each particular tour.
Currently, audiences will hear old classics with modern updates, such as Sara Niemietz’s version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” “It’s absolutely breathtaking,” Colley says. “Vonzell Solomon sings the hell out of ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police. She makes the song sound authentic and soulful. She is a powerhouse. We also have newcomer, Olivia Kuper Harris, who sings ‘Last Friday Night’ by Katy Perry—and when I tell you she is a true jazz vocalist, and sings that song as if Ella Fitzgerald is on stage, it’s jaw-droppingly beautiful to hear!”
Nevertheless, Colley admits there are hits and misses with PMJ’s concept. While Dani Armstrong’s (a.k.a. Jack Dani) version of “This Love” by Maroon 5 was a red-hot hit with Latin vibes tingling through vintage jazz tones and horns, Katy Perry’s “Hot n Cold” didn’t sit well with Colley’s voice.
“We wound up changing the song to ‘Forget You’ by Cee Lo Green,” he remembers, “and that song is super fun to do live.”