Billie Holiday once famously sang, “Autumn in New York, why does it seem so inviting?” Indeed, there’s a certain magic inherent to the fall season. But, while New York holds an alluring sway (I’m a New Yorker myself), I would argue that there’s a greater force at work than the call of the Big Apple when the leaves change color. Holiday is right about one thing: Fall is the season of jazz and swing. 

Think about it — there’s something incredibly fitting about embracing the music of an age gone by as nature sheds it summer green in exchange for autumnal reds and golds. There’s just something about the gravelly voice of Louis Armstrong when the wind howls, the warmth of a blazing saxophone solo and the romance of the music combining with that of the season.

But listening to swing doesn’t mean you have to barrel back into the past. The old hits are classics, but it’s time to make some room on the stage for new artists to continue the grand tradition of the genre. Here are a handful of contemporary bands who might just bring forth the new “Roaring ’20s” — after all, 2020 sits on the horizon, and history tends to repeat itself. 

Postmodern Jukebox, or PMJ, is an interesting beast. Created from the musical imagination of Scott Bradlee with the intent to bring “classic sounds (he) loved back into the mainstream,” PMJ quickly grew in scope, talent and popularity. The PMJ roster hosts nearly 100 musicians in all, including both vocalists and instrumentalists. Rather than a traditional band with the same members performing every track, PMJ “rotates” their musicians, with every song, album, or live performance offering a different musical combination, or as Bradlee puts it, a “rotating collective of musical outcasts.” The most fun thing about PMJ, however, is that they don’t just cover classic swing or jazz songs, or even write their own — no, they take modern, contemporary hits from any and every genre, and reshape them into vintage-style jazz/swing tracks. Like, for instance, a swing cover of Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over,” or a smokey jazz-club version of Radiohead’s “Creep.”

Pink Martini, founded by politician Thomas Lauderdale, started as a musical group meant to provide entertainment to lackluster fundraisers and political events. Then, Lauderdale met vocalist China Forbes, and thus Lauderdale’s “little orchestra” became the multilingual jazz band Pink Martini we know today. To jump into the world of Pink Martini, start with their original hit “Hang on Little Tomato.” Not only is it a fun song — as the title suggests, about a lonely tomato who’s stuck in the rain — but the track works as a great example that not everything has been done before. When it comes to revitalizing genres whose heyday has come and past, there tends to be a general sense of “Well, what left is there to do?” Pink Martini’s answer: Sing about vegetables. And you know what? It works. Garden veggies aside, the band is unique in its strong dose of “international flavor.” Lead singer China Forbes regularly performs in various languages, including tracks (and even entire albums) sung in French or Spanish. Take “Sympathique,” a song composed in the traditional style of old-French music. Pink Martini, like many modern groups who foray into jazz and swing, do not limit themselves solely to those two genres. A characteristic that makes them even more fun to listen to — you never know exactly what to expect, but secure in the knowledge that disappointment is a non-player. 

One would think Madeleine Peyroux had hopped right out of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” if common sense didn’t reason better. Her voice, slow and hypnotic, was born to be matched with the slow beat of a double bass and easy improvisation of the piano. Notable songs include her cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love,” her take on Frank Sinatra’s beloved “The Summer Wind,” and more. Yet her songs, while seemingly timeless, still contain a modern touch in the lilt of her voice. Her songs also lack the busy instrumentation characteristic of classic swing or jazz bands, but this absence allows Peyroux to maximize the charm of her voice, as if she’s a snake charmer and we’re the coiled serpent rising to her coaxing song. 

A special mention for Jeff Goldblum, too — but read our latest review of Goldblum’s new album for the full scoop. Take a chance to see how different the streets of Ann Arbor feel on a blisteringly cold evening with a well-formed swing playlist to keep you company on the journey.

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