“Pink Martini is like a romantic Hollywood musical of the 1940s or 50s – but with a global perspective which is modern,” says founder and artistic director Thomas M. Lauderdale. “We bring melodies and rhythms from different parts of the world together to create something which is new and beautiful.”
Portland, Oregon-based ‘little orchestra’ was founded in 1994 by Lauderdale, a Harvard graduate and classically trained pianist, to play political fundraisers for progressive causes such as civil rights, the environment, affordable housing and public broadcasting. In the years following Pink Martini grew from four musicians to its current twelve, and has gone on to perform its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Canada and the United States.
Lauderdale met China Forbes, Pink Martini’s “diva next door” lead vocalist, when the pair was at Harvard. He was studying history and literature while she was studying painting, English literature and theatre. Late into the night in their college dormitory on the Harvard campus, Forbes would sing Verdi and Puccini arias while Lauderdale accompanied her on piano, and their creative collaboration blossomed. Three years later, Lauderdale called Forbes who was living in New York City, where she’d been writing songs and playing guitar in her own folk-rock project, and asked her to join Pink Martini. They began to write music and lyrics together for the band, and their first song “Sympathique,” or “Je ne veux pas travailler” (I don’t want to work) became a huge hit in France.
The ensemble made its European debut at the Cannes Film Festival and its orchestral debut with the Oregon Symphony in 1998 under the direction of Norman Leyden. Pink Martini has since performed with symphony orchestras across the country including four night nights with the Boston Pops in 2005, multiple concerts with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in 2000, two nights with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on a co-bill with Sergio Mendes in 2002 and two nights headlining with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2005. Other prestigious 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 and 2004; the opening party of the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Kennedy Center and the William Morris Agency’s 100th birthday celebration with soul legend, Al Green.
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. Seven long years later the high-anticipated follow-up, “Hang on Little Tomato,” was released and climbed to #1 on Amazon.com’s best sellers list.
“Both China Forbes and I come from multicultural families,” says founder and pianist Thomas M. Lauderdale, “and all of us in the band have studied different languages and music from different parts of the world. So inevitably, because everyone in the band contributes in the writing and arranging of songs, the 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 are suddenly in a French music hall of the 1930s or in a palazzo in Napoli. It’s like an urban musical travelogue.” “We’re very much an American band, but we spend a lot of time abroad, in Europe, in Turkey, in Lebanon and therefore have the incredible opportunity to represent a different kind of America through our repertoire and our concerts – that is, an America which is the most heterogeneously populated country in the world – comprised of people from every country, every language, every religion.” “One of our goals is to make music which has broad appeal to people, no matter who they are or where they come from. We play the same set of music wherever we go, whether it’s in a small farming community in Oregon or in France or Turkey or with a symphony orchestra. My hope is that we’re creating music which can be turned up or down, and played on almost any occasion, from background music of a love affair to vacuuming around the house,” Lauderdale says.