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(Soundbite of song "Cry Baby Cry")

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Fans of The Beatles will recognize this tune and may also recognize this one.

(Soundbite of song "Cry Baby Cry")

INSKEEP: This is Cry Baby Cry simultaneously updated and turned retro by the jazz group The Millennial Territory Orchestra.

(Soundbite of "Cry Baby Cry")

INSKEEP: The Millennial Territory Orchestra, also known as MTO, mixes well-known pop songs with a lost style of jazz. It's a style that predates the Big Band era. The group has just released its first album called MTO Volume One. Ashley Kahn spoke with the arranger and trumpeter, Steven Bernstein.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

ASHLEY KAHN: Steven Bernstein is a bandleader by trade, but by nature he's really a tinkerer at heart.

Mr. STEVEN BERNSTEIN (Founder, The Millennial Territory Orchestra): Part of being an arranger is you need to take the whole song apart, figure out what the core elements are and then put it back together.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

KAHN: Perhaps the most successful example of Bernstein's passion for rearranging is his group, The Millennial Territory Orchestra.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

Mr. BERNSTEIN: It's this kind of bizarre combination of this old, old sound but also this very modern way of playing music. I described the band to a friend of mine and he said, oh, the Little Rascals Band.

(Soundbite of jazz music

KAHN: The band is known for their energetic on-the-spot arrangements of songs by Count Basie and the Grateful Dead, Stevie Wonder and even by the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince.

(Soundbite of song "Darling Nikki")

Mr. BERNSTEIN: Darling Nikki starts off really like a jazz song. It just builds and builds and builds.

(Soundbite of song "Darling Nikki")

Mr. BERNSTEIN: After, you know, this big three-minute crescendo, and then we go into playing the melody much in the style of a territory band. You'll hear me going...

(Soundbite of trumpet)

(Soundbite of song "Darling Nikki")

KAHN: Territory bands flourished in America in the 1920s and '30s, like Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra.

(Soundbite of jazz music

KAHN: To Bernstein, Territory bands are the missing link between dance orchestras from the turn of the century and the big bands of the swing era.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: It was this weird spot in American history. It was kind of being invented at the time and it was almost like a river that kind of ran out and didn't end up going into a mainstream of music. Some of the bands were more ragtimey, some of the bands were more what we now refer to as swing.

(Soundbite of jazz music

Mr. BERNSTEIN: Each one would travel in its territory. And there were the Midwestern bands, there were the Southwestern bands; and when people refer to territory bands, that's what they refer to. So I figured what would happen if I put together an ensemble using this kind of sound I had been listening to.

(Soundbite of jazz music

KAHN: Today, Bernstein pursues his love for combining old musical styles with new.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

KAHN: While figuring out how to get new listeners to check out jazz.

Mr. BERNSTEIN: In playing improvised, instrumental music, you need to work a little extra hard to bring the audience with you.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

Mr. BERNSTEIN: Aside from that 0.31 percent of the people in the world who are real fans of that kind of music, a lot of people sometimes are a little intimidated.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

KAHN: In his effort to open up the world of jazz, Bernstein has formed other eclectic groups with names that sound like rock bands: Spanish Fly, Sex Mob. He has created music for Hollywood films like Get Shorty and he's recorded an album of James Bond music.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

KAHN: Then there's The Millennial Territory Orchestra with a lineup that includes violin and guitar alongside trombone and slide trumpet. But the MTO is more than just nostalgic recreation. One secret to their appeal is that jolt of familiarity that suddenly brings their listeners into the modern era.

(Soundbite of song "Signed, Sealed, Delivered")

Mr. BERNSTEIN: The feeling about recognition in the audience, and I guess it's something I've been working with since the beginning. They hear this melody and they go, like, oh, that's the song, of course.

(Soundbite of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Like a fool I went and stayed too long...

Mr. BERNSTEIN: That's why I don't want to start with the melody. I want them to come on an adventure with us, which is the adventure of improvising. They trust you because you, you know, you've arrived safely or home.

(Soundbite of song "Signed, Sealed, Delivered")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Here I am, signed, sealed, delivered; I'm yours.

KAHN: That's pretty much what any bandleader aspires to, but it's different with Steven Bernstein in the driver's seat. It's his magic at mixing the strange and the familiar, the past and the present, that makes a ride with the MTO so surprising and enjoyable.

(Soundbite of song "Signed, Sealed, Delivered")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Here I am, baby, signed, sealed, delivered; I'm yours.

INSKEEP: That's Ashley Kahn, author of The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. He's also a regular feature on this program. The new CD by The Millennial Territory Orchestra is called MTO Volume One, and you can hear excerpts at npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep with Renee Montagne.

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