"Pink Martini is a rollicking around-the-world musical adventure if the United Nations had a house band in 1962, hopefully we'd be that band." Thomas Lauderdale, bandleader/pianist
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. 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 her own folkrock project, and asked her to join Pink Martini. They began to write songs together for the band and their first song "Sympathique" became an overnight sensation in France and was nominated for "Song of the Year" at France's Victoires de la Musique Awards in 2000.
"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 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 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."
Comprised of twelve musicians, Pink Martini 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. In 1998 Pink Martini made its European debut at the Cannes Film Festival and its orchestral debut with the Oregon Symphony 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. 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 Television, the band filmed and in 2009 released a live concert dvd entitled Discover The World.
"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, 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."