Harry Coseman has been singing since he was first discovered at the age of 19 on a talent show run by one of Belgium’s national channels, VRT. Practically all his life, even when he had other professional activities, he was appearing at shows across his native Flanders. A highpoint was his time spent singing the classic American songbook with his popular jazz combo, a group that lasted some 25 years, including several international tours.

An encounter with musician/producer Marc Cortens in 2018 led to an unusual and exciting idea: how about taking the classic melodies of Johann Strauss and creating modern, new songs with them?

There has never been a time when I was unaware of Strauss. It feels like their melodies have always been there, somewhere in the background, just playing the soundtrack to my life without me even realising it – Harry Coseman, 2020

The idea felt natural, as Coseman was already known as one of the most accomplished crooners in Flanders. “Spontaneously, I’ve always tended towards singers such as Frank Sinatra, Englebert Humperdinck, Tom Jones but also Jamie Cullum,” explains Coseman.

But he had a surprise in store. Rather than simply imitate the 19th century melodies, Cortens and his team revitalized the songs, bringing them a whole new context. “What’s the point of pretending we’re in 1870-something?” he asks. “We live in a more exciting time.”

Harry Coseman visiting Sunset Boulevard

Modern styles, modern themes

The repertoire that Coseman now sings features the classics, based on the timeless waltzes that enchant people worldwide. But when it came down to the polkas, the team decided to have some fun. “If you look at the Strauss family at the time, they gave very contemporary titles to some of their tunes,” says Coseman. “So we went all the way and added contemporary themes such as social media and speed dating – things that changed our societies as much as, say, electricity or steam trains in their day.”

The result is the album “Harry Coseman: The Voice of Strauss”, a collection of Strauss’ best-loved melodies recorded with lyrics – a totally new take on their music.

After completing a musical documentary about the Strauss family called “Strauss vs Strauss”, the next step is to get out on the road – the place where Coseman is most comfortable.

“Nothing can beat singing to an audience in a theater,” he says. “It’s where the magic happens.”