Pink Martini is a delectable concoction of twelve Portland, Oregon-based musicians whose sweet, smooth, spicy, tart and tangy programs are savored through the world. Pianist Thomas Lauderdale laughingly admits that he probably came up with the name when he was slight intoxicated and in the process of abandoning his political career to return to his first love, music.
He never imagined he would establish a band. Such a thing was not in his radar when he received a contract to go back home to Portland and play several concerts with the symphony. Because his life had shifted away from music toward politics, he was working on ballot measures that interested him involved civil rights. The only sour note came from the bands and DJs at political events. Convinced that he could write catchy songs and put together a lively ensemble to inspire voters, he assembled musicians guaranteed to add zest to the gatherings.
The band took off like the proverbial wildfire. Along with performing at political rallies, they were invited to appear at many other gatherings. It was not long before Lauderdale realized it was more fabulous to be playing in exotic locations and thanked by applause than to working under fluorescent lights and dealing with angry constituents.
He next convinces China Forbes, a former Harvard classmate turned guitarist and songwriter, to join him in Portland, bribing her away from New York City with Frequent Flier miles. Multilingual, as are many in the band, she is the lead vocalist amid a cocktail shaker of musicians representing wildly diverse styles. Their assorted backgrounds and languages enable them to converse wherever their schedule takes them. When needed, the core dozen is often enhanced with a string section. Despite the exotic origins of some members, Lauderdale often finds fresh talent right at home. As an adopted child who grows up with adopted siblings representing Africa, Asia and Iran, he easily reaches out to people of all nationalities.
He has never attempted an active search for band members, accidently finding the needed trumpet player, violinist or other instrumentalist by initiating a casual conversation. His conga (Cuban drum of African heritage) player was working in the kitchen of a place where he was having lunch. During a break, he came out and began entertaining the guests. Lauderdale snapped him up.
After making its European debut at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, Pink Martini has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and other major orchestras in Europe, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. They have collaborated with stars like Jimmy Scott, Carol Channing, Chavela Vargas and Michael Feinstein. The title song of their debut album, “Sympathique,” won France's Victoires de la Musique Awards of 2000 for “Song of the Year” and “Best New Artist.” Their second and third albums, “Hang on Little Tomato,” and “Hey Eugene!” have gone gold in France, Canada, Greece and Turkey. Their latest, “Splendor in the Grass,” is climbing rapidly.
Lauderdale's political background comes to the fore today only when he muses about the role of music as a democratic vehicle and the appeal of beautiful melodies and beautiful lyrics to all ages and political affiliations. Whether embarking on a love affair or going through a crisis, Pink Martini lends support.
It even goes back to the future. At a recent concert, a soldier and his wife who were expecting their first baby came up afterwards to explain that they had driven all the way from Fort Bragg so their unborn child could enjoy hearing the concert.