Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The New Faces of Jazz: Haley Reinhart & Scott Bradlee

"Lovefool", the buttery, sumptuous new retro jazz cover of the Cardigan's original 1996 Top 40 hit single, is the 4th collaboration between Haley Reinhart and Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox (Habits, All About That Bass, Creep), and the 4th time this dynamic duo has smashed it out of the park. It most certainly will not be the last.
At the risk of sounding grossly hyperbolic, we may just be looking at the new faces of a full blown jazz rebirth in popular music.

Haley Reinhart & Scott Bradlee are not just the biggest new thing in jazz today, they are the biggest thing to happen to jazz popularity in decades. How big are they?

  • They have owned the iTunes Jazz charts since Habits crashed into the Top 5 in January. 
  • Currently, all of their recordings are in the Top 30, while Lovefool and Creep remain entrenched in the Top 5. 
  • On YouTube, the 4 videos have 12 million combined views and that number is growing fast. 
  • Their arrangement of Creep was copied by a performer on The Voice finals. 
  • They have received effusive critical acclaim from major music review sites like Billboard, Time and Yahoo. 

Clearly there's something is going on here. If you look at the jazz charts today, there's virtually no new music or artists besides them, and no artists so young (Reinhart 24, Bradlee 33).

Of course, Bradlee's PMJ enjoyed substantial success prior to teaming with Reinhart. His cheeky, vintage arrangements of modern hit songs has clearly struck a chord with both young and old.

Bradlee's first viral YouTube ("Ragtime Interpretations of 80's Hits") took off in 2010. Afterward, he began doing vintage takes on other modern hits, including a Motown tribute of Nickleback and a few live performances featuring vocals by singers he knew or had worked with.

In early 2013, Bradlee began the modern era of Postmodern Jukebox. Adding NY singer and personal friend Robyn Anderson as lead vocalist as well as upgrading the production, things started to really take off. Their cover of Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" became a YouTube smash hit with over 7 million views.

Bradlee did not sit still after this first taste of success, and continued to prolifically add new cover videos with styles as varied and diverse as Klezmer, 70's Soul, Motown, Doo-Wop, Bluegrass and, of course, his beloved Vintage Jazz.  In doing this, Bradlee showed a command of vintage American music far beyond that of the Ragtime that started it all.

As the months progressed, Bradlee demonstrated sharp business acumen, continuing to strike while the iron was hot. By promoting PMJ via guerrilla marketing, social media, live national appearances, countless interviews and tireless touring he was able to recruite some the best talent most people never heard of as singers and performers. Artists like highly respected bassist/singer Kate Davis, sultry Ariana Savales and gorgeous, powerhouse vocalist Morgan James elevated PMJ to still another level.

In late 2014, Bradlee bumped into jazz-hipster former American Idol finalist Casey Abrams. Abrams offered the playful showmanship and expert musicianship that was a perfect fit for Scott's bawdy live shows and videos, as well as a fairly sizable online fan base to help increase awareness for PMJ.

Casey has since recorded two well received and successful PMJ songs/videos (Stacy's Mom, I'm Not The Only One) and several cameos, but perhaps his biggest contribution of all was introducing Scott to an incredibly gifted, once-in-a-generation jazz vocalist: The stunningly beautiful Haley Reinhart.

Herself an American Idol finalist and best friend (perhaps more?) of Abrams, Haley is a jazz educated performer with a resume that includes the Montreux Jazz Festival, a nationally televised performance with Tony Bennett, and a feature Carnegie Hall performance with Grammy Award winning Jazz musician Irvin Mayfield Jr.

With natural instincts for scatting and jazz intonation, an unlimited range, a playful, sexy vixen persona, and a luscious vocal tone that's like a warm oil massage of the auditory senses, she was the ultimate find for Scott. Bradlee is himself a master director and pianist who has a similarly instinctive, unteachable "feel" for arranging vintage music.

What's created between them is not so much throwback as it is timeless. I cannot imagine a more compatible collaboration of talent and style than Scott and Haley, and what we're seeing unfold is the ground floor of something very special. Jazz has been stuck in time for decades, almost a secret society for a select few to appreciate. Well, times are a changin'.

This dynamic duo is at the right place at the right time to become the new faces of a popular, postmodern rebirth of jazz, and I personally cannot wait to see what this young superstar team has in store for us next.

Poo Out

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bye Bye Miss American Idol Pie

"A long long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile. And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance, and maybe they'd be happy for awhile. But February made me shiver with every paper I'd deliver. Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn't take one more step. I can't remember if I cried when I read about his widowed bride, but something touched me deep inside the day the music died."  
- Don Mclean
It's almost like hearing The Tonight Show or Saturday Night Live has been canceled.

American Idol, an American institution which for over a decade destroyed the competition, revolutionized television programming, and drew more viewers than every show on TV not named the Super Bowl, is going bye bye.

After the show began its free-fall during the disastrously manipulated 12th season, and subsequently crashed into the death spiral of  irrelevance by this, its 14th and 2nd last season, the handwriting was on the wall.

Then, in an official statement by FOX this afternoon (Monday) it was announced to the surprise of no one that the old gray mare was being sent to the glue factory next year after its 15th and final season.

I have to admit a sense of sadness. I casually watched the show in its first 5 years, randomly catching occasional episodes and watching the finale, but in Season 6 for some reason I started becoming a super fan and religiously watched every episode.

Therefore, here is my personal Idol journey from AI 6 thru today, where I will highlight my favorite artists of each season.

Season 6

I became infatuated with sexy Haley Scarnato, who had a pleasant enough voice and very hot legs. Unfortunately, she was beaten to death by cranky British judge Simon Cowell every single week without fail. I was outraged by these unjust attacks on my foxy babe, and for the first time I began to vote.

Alas, my Haley was eliminated 8th despite my best efforts. I was hoping she'd somehow sneak into the Top 5, but it was not meant to be. Fortunately, another girl named Haley would come along four seasons later with the chops to match her sexy legs, but I'll save that for later.

Season 7 

I was all about the Cookster from the get go. He was a revolutionary Idol. The first contestant to really transform songs, and used smoke and lighting to create a larger than life stage presence. He was a rock GOD, and I was all in for the dude bell to bell. Though I feared the uber-pimped Christ Child (David Archuletta) could cruise to victory, for what would be one of only two times in my Idol watching history.... MY fave won!!

Season 8

Allison Irahita was my fave of AI8. She had a voice with the smokey, sultry textures of a 40 year old blues singer in the body of a 17 year old girl. She probably should have waited another year to audition, because she was a bit too young to handle the fame and craziness that comes with show business. She was bounced in 4th, but I was hoping she'd shock the world and sneak into the finale.

Season 9

Mamasox. I absolutely LOVED her. This would become the first Idol artist I followed on twitter, and also the first I remained a huge fan of post-Idol. I have bought all her records, and consider her to have the most pristine voice of any Idol. She also proved to be a true road warrior and a BRILLIANT song writer of tremendous depth. When she unbelievably lost to Dewyze I almost smashed the TV.

Post-Idol, I've gained genuine respect for her dedication to her craft as a musician. Crystal came to the show not only talented, but street wise and worldly. After the show, she used those tools to become a prolific recording artist and tireless road warrior. She tours exhaustively all over the country (except SoFL, damn it), and became everything I had hoped she'd become when I watched her as a contestant.

I am proud to be a Village Idiot (the original nickname of her fan base), and will always be a devoted fan of Crystal Bowersox.

Season 10

The Haley bug bit me again, but this time it was a MUCH deeper bite. I fell in love with Hot Haley Reinhart at her Oh Darlin' audition, and continued to love her all the way through the competition.

I also loved Pia Toscano's voice, and her incredible beauty, but sadly she was sent home WAY too early...which nearly caused me to destroy the TV set again. I've also found Pia post-Idol to be a beautiful woman inside and out and root for her success personally and professionally.

So, do you get the idea I may dig super hot women?

Anyway, there was no greater injustice than Haley not making the finale, and I think it may have led to the demise of the show. The producers and judges railroaded her out so the country twins could get to the finale. Man, did that piss me off. Yes, it was TV set smashing time yet again.

That said, Haley has me transfixed. As a contestant, I LOVED her sex appeal, and still do, but I love her incredible voice even more....especially when it comes to jazz. She is gifted with an almost unfair combination of smokey, sultry, smooth, silky, raspy, and about a thousand octave range that can blow minds. With all those gifts she can sing nearly anything, any genre, at the highest levels, but in jazz she has a natural instinct for improvisation that sets her apart from all others. She can texture and layer her vocals to massage the brain into a near euphoric state.

Haley came to the show still learning who she is as an artist. She's still on that journey finding herself, learning who she is, what she's best at, what will work for her the most, and how to navigate the business of the business. What I've observed as she's gotten a bit older, a bit more experienced in her music career, is that she's starting to find her path, her way, her calling. She is a bluesy jazz singer, and from her success with Postmodern Jukebox, her many performances with Grammy winning jazz man Irvin Mayfield Jr, and her tight relationship AI 10 finalist Casey Abrams, himself an accomplished jazz musician prolific in countless instruments, she is now on the path to something special.

I am a HUGE fan, an original Halien, and am rooting for her to become the very best she can be...which in her case is an incredibly high ceiling.

Season 11

Phillip Phillips and nothing else. He kinda snuck up on me, too. I liked him, but wasn't crazy about him until the season wore on and I suddenly realized I had bought nearly all his iTunes music performances and none of the others.

Best of all, he WON!

Phillips, like Bowersox, is a very deep writer. He draws from heavy and philosophical thoughts on life, and his music often reflects that. Plus, he's also a truly dedicated musician and road warrior. His post-Idol success has been enormous, but right now he's stuck in the legal mud with 19 Entertainment, and until that's settled things will be much quieter for him.

At his heart, Phillips is an edgy rocker - darker and more haunting than casual fans realize (which I love), and less pop rocker or pop/folk anthem singer. His brilliant deeper cuts reflect this style. Expect his music moving forward to be in that vain. His artistic conviction and energized, jamming live performances reveal a truly authentic person and artist who always puts the music first.

He's called The New Boss for good reason. Can't wait for the next chapter to unfold.

Season 12

I did not like this season at all, but my favorite was Candice. She hasn't found her way post-Idol, but she had some VERY strong jazz performances on the show that deserve recognition. Especially You've Changed, which is one of my all time Idol fave performances.While she won the crown that season, it meant little as the label bailed when the ratings tanked. She's been dabbling with hip-hop as of late, but I can't see that working for her. She should stay in the soul lane.

Season 13

Jessica Meuse. Another beautiful girl with a wonderful voice who was unjustly hated like poison by the judges, especially Keith. She made it to 4th against all odds (no, she thankfully didn't sing that over-used dirge), and now post-Idol is a true musician dedicated to living life on the road. That means constantly gigging and pumping out self-penned original music (she just released "Done", her first single). I respect her commitment, and hope she carves out a nice niche for herself. Reminds me of Crystal Bowersox in music style and approach to life as an Americana fusion artist.

Season 14

The season is still in motion, but Quentin gets the nod as my favorite. Has there ever been a more intense artist on the show? A strong vocalist who got into the staging and artistry, he caught a lot of shit from Harry for pitch - which was complete crap - and as a result got eliminated 6th. he deserved to be in the finale. Very interested to see what he does post-Idol. He has a theatrical way about him, too. I expect eclectic and authentic from whatever he does moving forward.

OK, going on 3 AM and I gotta work tomorrow.

Poo out.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Phillip Phillips Takes On 19E

Phillip Phillips Tells Big Brother He's Walking

"Hey Nineteen
No we can't dance together
No we can't talk at all" 

- Steely Dan 
In a world where the big label music machine calls all the shots and treats their talent like toilet paper, we have a little ant that's daring to try and move the rubber tree plant. That ant's name is Phillip Phillips.

Phillips, who came to fame winning American Idol in Season 11 with the ubiquitous, multi-platinum coronation hit "Home", the biggest hit single of any contestant in the history of the long running iconic show. He then followed it up with multi-platinum hit "Gone, Gone Gone" off his platinum selling debut album "The World From The Side Of The Moon", and followed that with a strong sophomore effort, "Behind The Light".

Seems all hunky-dory, right?

WRONG! Phillips is mad as hell, and he's not taking it anymore. He was pissed when they made "Home" into the signature sound he was supposed to adopt on all future singles. He was pissed they put his brilliant track "Take Me Away" on the Target bonus track list with no iTunes presence. He was FURIOUS when on his 2nd album they kept him entirely in the dark on the title, and he only found out about it reading social media.

However, what put it over the edge was when 19E forced him to do promotional shows supporting Idol 2 years after he was on the show with NO compensation. Then, made him do private appearances, again, for NO compensation.

At this point, Phillips said he had had enough. No control over his music style, no control over his album titles and no compensation for gigs he was never consulted on led to Phillips firing back with guns blazing. He was not gonna be nobody's pop-folk pretty boy doing free shows with minimal creative control over his album titles and singles anymore.

But what could he do? Nobody takes on Big Machine Label and has a career to live another day. They are the big shots, and fighting them means a certain black list. He surely wouldn't risk everything for principle knowing the consequences were dire, and the cards all in the hands of the slave master labels, right?

WRONG! In a shocking display if substance over narcissism, Phillips dropped a bombshell lawsuit on 19E, one of THE biggest labels/management entities in the world.

It's David vs Goliath.

It's Rocky vs Apollo Creed.

It's Kenny Poo vs Political Correctness.

Yes, Phillip Phillips has given the middle finger to The Machine and in the process gambled he may "never work in this town again".

Why would he take such a risk, when playing bitch to the master would safely give him the means to a life of comfort? Well, for the same reason he refused to wear multi-colored Tommy Hilfiger prep-wear on American Idol, opting instead for his typical gray t-shirt and jeans against the wishes of the big corporate sponsors and producers: He is his own man.

Of course, being newly engaged has probably helped fuel that strength of character even more, as his wife-to-be is a preachers daughter who by all accounts has shown a fiery determination to make sure her future hubby does the right thing.

So, what now?

Well, a very long court battle is likely to ensue. The powerful lawyers of 19E will extend this case out for years, and Phillip will be in a no-man's land in all likelihood until it's resolved. I'm no high powered attorney, so don't ask me what options he has within this time frame, but hopefully he'll have some avenue to push out the inspired music that will no doubt be created from this challenging period.

I know one thing: Every Idol ever born, from the Kelly/Carrie top of the food chain down to the low place finishers trying to find their way, all owe Phillip a measure of gratitude for having the stones to take on corrupt mountain and not back down.

Strength to you, Phillip. We the people are rooting for you.

Poo out.