Over the last few years, jazzy covers of modern-day pop tunes with accompanying 1920s-style videos have been trending all over the internet. Many of these covers come from a project by pianist and arranger Scott Bradlee, who releases videos under the moniker Postmodern Jukebox that feature modern musicians performing his arrangements while dressed in period clothes.
Despite this recent surge in popularity, covering pop songs and re-arranging them using staples of jazz and swing styles has actually been a trend for a while. Musicians past and present have recognized the harmonic and rhythmic possibilities that jazz can offer the pop canon. Merging these two styles opens up a whole new world for experimental musicians and listeners, alike. So, here are eight recent jazzy covers of pop songs that encapsulate this trend.
This cover by Iceland group 6iJazz reimagines Outkast’s “Hey Ya” as a slow, bluesy jam, with trumpet and sax at the helm. The tight horn band plays along like a New Orleans-style street band, marching through the streets, taking the roots of jazz and intersecting them with the future of African American music—hip-hop.
Pianist Taylor Eigsti and vocalist Becca Stevens bolster the melancholy in this classic Elliott Smith with their soulful interpretation that glides along like a funeral procession. The song seems further darkened by Eigsti’s manipulation of the harmony and his slow, building solo towards the end of the track.
Another cover worthy of this list is The Bad Plus’ cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The take the grunge classic and meld it with some free jazz risk taking—angular soloing, cacophonic drums and piano, and a buzzy, growling bassline that grows to an alarming crescendo. Though not executed with the same understatement of grunge, The Bad Plus’s cover captures Kurt Cobain’s angst and does it justice.
Pianist Robert Glasper did this cover of Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place” and mashed it up with the classic modal Herbie Hancock tune, “Maiden Voyage” on his solo 2007 album, In My Element. The mash-up shows uncanny overlap in harmony, rhythmic pattern and structure between the 1966 funk-jazz Hancock tune and the 2000 Radiohead song, proving Hancock’s undeniable impact on the modern-day pop/rock canon.
Twenty-two-year old multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier has garnered attention from Quincy Jones among other music industry legends for his incredible ear and impeccable improvisation. This cover is most exceptional—a super arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” that utilizes extended harmonies and complex chord voicings, which are staples of the contemporary jazz tradition.
In this cover of the popular Meghan Trainor song from 2014, New York jazz musician Kate Davis and Postmodern Jukebox pithily twist the song’s meaning into a reference to the double bass. With Davis’ dexterous vibrato and vocal delivery and stride piano in the back holding down the fort, this is a very convincing, true-to-tradition re-envisioning of in a ragtime, early 20th-century jazz style. This is one of the best of the plethora of pop covers that draw from early jazz in particular.
Masterful jazz pianist Brad Mehldau shows his versatility on this version of The Beatles’ classic “Blackbird,” arranged for piano, bass and drums. The quiet meandering version captures the metronomic effect of the original, while adding in an extended section of soaring improvisation. Plus, the swinging groove forging forward gives the classic protest song new life.
Swedish band Dirty Loops are not strictly a jazz group, but their technical abilities and grasp of re-harmonizing songs takes them right into that territory. This cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” showcases their impressive chemistry as a trio, as well as their individual abilities as soloists.