15 years ago in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, Thomas Lauderdale was working in politics, thinking that one day he would run for mayor. Like other eager beaver politicians-in-training, he went to every political fundraiser under the sun … but was dismayed to find the music at these events underwhelming, lackluster, loud and un-neighborly. Drawing inspiration from music from all over the world – crossing genres of classical, jazz and old-fashioned pop – and hoping to appeal to conservatives and liberals alike, he founded the “little orchestra”Pink Martini in 1994 to provide more beautiful and inclusive musical soundtracks for political fundraisers for progressive causes such as civil rights, affordable housing, the environment, libraries, public broadcasting, education and parks.
“Pink Martini draws inspiration from the romantic Hollywood musicals of the 1940s or ‘50s … with a more global perspective. We write a lot of songs … but we also champion songs like Ernesto Lecuona’s “Andalucia”or “Amado mio”from the Rita Hayworth film “Gilda”or “Kikuchiyo to mohshimasu (My name is Kikuchiyo)”made famous in the 1960s by the great Japanese group Hiroshi Wada & His Mahina Stars. In that sense we’re a bit like musical archeologists, digging through recordings and scores of years past and rediscovering beautiful songs.”
Lauderdale met China Forbes, Pink Martini’s “Diva Next Door” lead vocalist, at Harvard. He was studying history and literature while she was studying English literature and painting. Actually neither of them really studied, they socialized … and late at night, they would break into the lower common room in their college dormitory and sing arias by Puccini and Verdi – and the occasional campy Barbara Streisand cover –thus sealing their creative collaboration. Three years after graduating, Lauderdale called Forbes who was living in New York City, where she’d been writing songs and playing guitar in hew own folk-rock project, and asked her to join Pink Martini. They began to write songs together for the band. Their first song “Sympathique”– with the chorus “Je ne veux pas travailler”(”I don’t want to work”) – became an overnight sensation in France, and was even nominated for “Song of the Year”at France’s Victoires de la Musique Awards.
“Both China Forbes and I come from multicultural families,”says Lauderdale. “All of us in Pink Martini have studied different languages as well as different styles of music from different parts of the world. So inevitably, because everyone has participated at some point in the writing or arranging of songs, our repertoire is wildly diverse. At one moment, you feel like you’re in the middle of a samba parade in Rio de Janeiro, and in the next moment, you’re in a French music hall of the 1930s or a palazzo in Napoli. It’s a bit like an urban musical travelogue. We’re very much an American band, but we spend a lot of time abroad … and therefore have the incredible diplomatic opportunity to represent – through our repertoire and our concerts – a broader, more inclusive America … the America which remains the most heterogeneously populated country in the world … comprised of people of every country, every language, every religion.”
Pink Martini has twelve musicians (and sometimes travels with string sections), and performs its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Australia and New Zealand and North America. Pink Martini made its European debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 and its orchestral debut with the Oregon Symphony in 1998 under the direction of Norman Leyden. Since then, the band has gone on to play with over 25 orchestras around the world, including multiple engagements with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, the Boston Pops, the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center and the BBC Concert Orchestra in London. Other appearances include the grand opening of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, with return sold-out engagements for New Year’s Eve 2003, 2004 & 2008; two sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall; the opening party of the remodeled Museum of Modern Art in NYC; the Governor’s Ball at the 80th Annual Academy Awards in 2008; and the opening of the 2008 Sydney Festival in Australia.
“The overarching goal is to create a cohesive body of beautiful songs with beautiful melodies. And then it all just extends outward from there. Because the interests of the band are so diverse – two percussionists who spend a lot of time in Brasil; another percussionist who grew up in Peru; a German speaking trombone player who studied with all the brass section of the Chicago Symphony and likes Miles Davis; a singer who studied French and Italian and sings in 15 different languages; a cellist who speaks Mandarin – because of this diversity inside the band, there are endless ideas. On a bad day it can just seem all too dizzying. But hopefully in the larger picture, it is a more accurate representation of America in 2009.”
“Pink Martini represents all that Toronto aspires to – sophistication, cosmopolitanism, and a type of delight that sometimes involves dressing up and carousing … with its heterogeneous tastes and facility in languages, the pop orchestra might have sprung from our own diverse metropolis, but hails instead from Portland, Oregon.”
– Toronto Star, March 2008
The band has collaborated and performed with Jimmy Scott, Carol Channing, Henri Salvador, Jane Powell, Chavela Vargas, Georges Moustaki, Michael Feinstein, DJ Dimitri from Paris, clarinetist and conductor Norman Leyden, Hiroshi Wada, DJ Johnny Dynell and several drag queens from New York City, among others.
Most recently, the band collaborated with the 234th Army Band of the Oregon National Guard and 12 performers (including Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts) to stage Oregon! Oregon! A Sesquicentennial Fable in IV Acts by Stan Freberg (with the 4th act co-written by Lauderdale, the First Lady of Oregon Mary Oberst, Chariots of Fire conductor Harry Rabinowitz and 12 others-) around the state of Oregon in August/September 2009 to celebrate the state’s 150th anniversary.
“Pink Martini definitely is an original force in contemporary music even as it basks in eclectic nostalgia. It also bridges, better than any band in recent memory, the high-brow/pop culture divide.”– The Washington Times, June 29, 2005
Pink Martini’s debut album Sympathique was released independently in 1997 on the band’s own label Heinz Records (named after Lauderdale’s dog), and quickly became an international phenomenon, garnering the group nominations for “Song of the Year”and “Best New Artist”in France’s Victoires de la Musique Awards in 2000. Pink Martini released Hang On Little Tomato in 2004 and Hey Eugene! in 2007. All three albums have gone gold in France, Canada, Greece and Turkey, and have sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. In partnership with Public Broadcasting, the band filmed and released a concert dvd entitled Discover The World. Sympathique and Hey Eugene! have also been released on vinyl.
In May 2009, the band recorded three concerts with the Oregon Symphony under the direction of Carlos for the band’s fifth album … a symphonic record which is slated for a Spring 2010 release.
“A defining moment in a group’s career can arrive from the most unexpected of places. For Pink Martini, it came courtesy of the United Nations …. Last month Srgjan Kerim, the new president of the U.N’s General Assembly, ordered 30 copies of Pink Martini’s second album “Hang on Little Tomato”. The Macedonian was so smitten after catching a recent show in Vancouver B.C. that he intends to pass out the cd during his first official meeting.”– Los Angeles Times, 13 September 2007
“Americans don’t really sing together anymore … except for church … or maybe the shower. At the turn of the 20th century, every middle-class American household had a piano. And it was the focal point of the house … people would gather around it and sing together. Music was something everyone participated in. Everyone played an instrument or sang … whether it was an American folk song like “Oh My Darling Clementine”or “Home On The Range”or an Irving Berlin song like “What’ll I Do”or Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me”, everybody knew the songs, knew the words, and could participate. But then the radio came, and then the television … and soon it was all over. For me, Pink Martini is partially an attempt to rebuild a culture which sings and dances.”