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Five thoughts: Postmodern Jukebox at Cabaret Jazz (August 14)

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Photo: Geoff Carter

1. They’re not fooling around. Pianist and arranger Scott Bradlee’s musical collective might have been born of a YouTube lark—gathering together musician friends in his small New York City apartment to perform contemporary songs like “Single Ladies” and “Welcome to the Jungle” in the style of big-band jazz standards—but it’s gotten much bigger. In the middle of Postmodern Jukebox’s set at Cabaret Jazz, Bradlee noted that PMJ’s ranks now include some 70 musicians from all over the world. And he made this proud declaration to cameras that were recording the Cabaret Jazz show for a PBS special. PMJ has become a legit jazz supergroup and a genuine pop culture phenomenon, thanks to viewers like you.

2. They brought their biggest guns. This version of PMJ took the stage as a seven-piece with a rotating cast of vocalists—among them Aubrey Logan, Sarah Niemietz, LaVance Colley, Dani Armstrong, Casey Abrams, Maiya Sykes, Hailey Reinhart and Ariana Savalas, who also performed host duties. Any one of them could have headlined the show and sent the audience home satisfied. The amount of talent gathered in one room was absolutely staggering.

3. The whole show was the highlight. Tough to pick a best song or a best moment. Was it Logan’s rapid-fire delivery of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” in the style of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross? Was it Sykes’ reinterpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” as a N’awlins jazz cooker? Or was it Bradlee’s off-the-cuff piano medley, which included lyrical versions of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Day Tripper,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Life on Mars” and “Seven Nation Army?” The hits, as the say, just kept coming.

4. Ariana Savalas should host the Oscars. The LA-based singer, comedian and burlesque performer had us all thoroughly charmed from start to finish. “Well, heck. I’ve never said ‘heck’ in my life, but we’re on PBS,” she joked at one point. Later, while leaning over an an older gentleman in the audience to flirt with him: “Sometimes, when I get anxious, my nerves get the breast of me.”

5. It was a wonderful night of do-overs. The television taping meant that some songs needed to be performed more than once to get them right for the cameras, most notably Reinhart’s torch-song version of “Black Hole Sun” (“But it won’t have the same pizzazz!” she faux-protested) and the raucous, all-hands-on-deck version of “Stacy’s Mom” that closed out the show. Every time, the PBS crew asked the audience to applaud PMJ like we were discovering them for the first time—and every time we applauded, we meant it.

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Geoff Carter

Experts in paleoanthropology believe that Geoff Carter began his career in journalism sometime in the early Grunge period, when he ...

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