If the world had a house band, it would be Pink Martini.
This 12-piece band from Portland can perform in so many languages that it was no surprise when Srgjan Kerim, the former president of the United Nations’ General Assembly, ordered 30 copies of Pink Martini’s second album, “Hang on Little Tomato,” and planned to share it during an official UN meeting.
Bandleader and pianist, Thomas Lauderdale, says “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 lead vocalist, while they were both in Harvard. Three years after graduating, Lauderdale called Forbes who was living in New York City 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, comprised of people of every country, every language, every religion.”
Pink Martini has performed its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Australia, 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 more than 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.
In 2011, Pink Martini performed at the Kennedy Center and at the Strathmore in Bethesda. Unfortunately, China Forbes could not make either trips since she was recovering from vocal surgery. She’s been performing a few shows since then, however, including the time when Pink Martini was on Jay Leno’s show. For most of the year, vocalist Storm Large filled in. She has the voice worthy of singing the multi-lingual songs that Pink Martini has basically trademarked, and she can grab your attention with her sultry moves and playful old hollywood vibe. Despite their differences in style and personality, Storm Large worked very well on stage with Ari Shapiro.
When Pink Martini performed with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center earlier this year, Ari Shapiro, the White House correspondent for National Public Radio, also made his Washington, D.C., debut. Shapiro has been moonlighting with the band for the last couple of years. He is included on the band’s fourth album, “Splendor in the Grass,” as a guest vocalist on the track, “But Now I’m Back,” as well as the band’s holiday album, “Joy to the World”. When he first glided on stage at the Kennedy Center, there was a bit of surprise from the audience. “Yes, I am Ari Shapiro,” he quickly quipped to the crowd. “And you don’t look like what I expected, either.”
While living up in Portland and before he even had a driver’s license, Shapiro actually snuck in to see a Pink Martini performance. In the following years, Lauderdale heard Shapiro’s voice and invited the reporter to sing with the band. Shapiro made his on-stage debut at the Hollywood Bowl in 2009. Being NPR’s White House correspondent surely has its perks like being on Air Force One and spending time with the president. Still, with Shapiro’s GQ looks and silky butter-itone voice, he most definitely belongs on stage. In an ironic twist, radio killed the video star.
At the Strathmore, Shapiro performed several songs on stage with Storm Large and Portland cantor Ida Rae Cahana. In addition, Pink Martini also brought out a special guest: Japanese singing legend Saori Yuki, whom Lauderdale introduced as the “Barbra Streisand of Japan.” And Saori Yuki did not disappoint. In Pink Martini’s latest album, “1969?, Saori Yuki is the lead singer in most of the songs. In the album and also during the performance, Saori Yuki sang a Japanese version of “Puff the Magic Dragon” as well as a Japanese version of “White Christmas.” Lauderdale explained that it was only recently that “White Christmas” was allowed to be performed in Japanese. Considering what happened in Japan in 2011 with the earthquake and that the performance was one week removed from the 70th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor, the significance of her performance was felt by everyone.
Since 2007, author Walter Grio has raised more than $100,000 through his philanthropy photo project, Shoot for Change, which has benefited numerous nonprofit organizations. He is a regular attendee at the world renowned Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, Berlin, and Miami, photographing the fashion runways of many of the top designers in the world. When he’s not taking photos, he works full time managing software implementations for Oracle. For the record, he has seen Pink Martini perform in Paris, London, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and in a couple of New Year’s Eve shows in Portland. He thinks they’re all right.