United not divided

Pink Martini. Submitted photo.

Pink Martini to perform with emphasis on multiculturalism

Leah Rankin | Staff Writer


The band is cosmopolitan, but that’s not why it’s called Pink Martini.

This “little orchestra” founded by politician-turned-musician Thomas Lauderdale in 1994 is difficult to categorize. Each of its six albums span a world of musical cultures, from Brazilian lounge music to Parisian jazz, and represent just as many languages.

But the ideals of the band are near and dear to the Chautauqua frame of mind in that Pink Martini hopes to bring together people from different generations and beliefs to share in a common experience. The band will perform at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater with its temporary lead singer, Storm Large.

“The idea was to bring this atmosphere that liberal people and conservative people, Republicans and Democrats, Communists, skaters and grandmothers could come together and find a brief commonality,” Lauderdale said.

Pink Martini, which was just a funny-sounding band name to Lauderdale, was his response to the drab, colorless music he encountered at political fundraisers while running for mayor in Portland, Ore. He wished for a more swank soundtrack during those fundraisers and soon began to perform his own music in nursing homes and hospitals while supporting his political causes.

“There was a big concert at the end of the week,” Lauderdale said. “I didn’t have an opening act, so I threw on a cocktail dress, found a boy to play the bongos, found a bass player and a singer, and that was the first band.”

As the band grew in popularity, it also grew in size. Musicians Lauderdale met on the road became long-term members. Trombonist Robert Taylor, for example, met Lauderdale during a performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Each band member (there are now 12) brings his or her own cultural experiences to the stage, shaping the sound of Pink Martini into what Lauderdale calls “old-fashioned global pop.”

“The advantage of having such a large band,” Lauderdale said, “is that it’s more fun with a group of people. It’s more fun having a posse as opposed to being a solo performer.”

Pink Martini has represented the United States both musically and politically around the world. Three of its albums have gone gold in Europe, and even international political figures have clamored for copies of Pink Martini’s CDs.

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2007 that the Macedonian president of the United Nations General Assembly ordered 30 copies of “Hang on Little Tomato” after hearing the band play in Canada.

“I think it’s a fascinating time,” Lauderdale said. “We are literally living in a multicultural world and a multicultural nation. The challenge is to somehow have the sound of it all come together as united, not divided.”

Pink Martini’s original lead singer, China Forbes, has been one of the driving forces of musical multiculturalism since the band’s beginning. She collaborated with Lauderdale at Harvard, where they both spent their time playing music instead of studying. The duo focused on a multilingual repertoire, performing in French, Spanish and even Turkish on the stages of the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Forbes recently left the band, however, to undergo surgery on her vocal chords. Her temporary replacement is Large, a “legendary” figure in Portland.

“She’s like a super busty Jayne Mansfield with a brain,” Lauderdale said, “and a voice of an angel, or rather a voice of a prophet of some sort.”

Large, who will perform with Pink Martini in tonight’s concert, started her career as the lead singer in the band Storm and the Balls. She has been performing internationally for more than 15 years and has garnered positive attention from her performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Joe’s Pub in New York.

Large made her debut with Pink Martini in April with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center. Lauderdale said that although he is saddened by Forbes’ absence, he is thrilled for the opportunity to perform not only with Large but also with a variety of new singers.

“It’s been great to take this period of time as an opportunity to work with many singers and to do the variety show that I’ve always wanted,” Lauderdale said.

Pink Martini has been described as the 1960s house band of the United Nations. Its music is not quite lounge, not quite Latin and not quite pop, but it is music that people of all generations, cultures and political ideologies can enjoy.