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Pink Martini comes to town with multicultural sounds

MATT JAMES, Of the Record staff
Pink Martini will appear at the Eccles Center this Saturday, April 8. Photo by Sherri Diteman.
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Pink Martini combines elements from 1940s Cuban jazz orchestras, Japanese film noir, Brazilian marching bands and old-fashioned swing, wraps it all up with a panoply of different languages appearing in different songs, and calls it

American.

According to pianist and band leader Thomas Lauderdale, Pink Martini exemplifies America.

"Ultimately," he said, "American is the most heterogeneously populated culture in the world."

The band’s illustrates that heterogeneousness in its songs.

"It’s a more accurate reflection of the diversity of the country," said Lauderdale. "That’s what makes America so utterly fantastic, that it’s such a diverse country."

Pink Martini’s music sounds like something a person might have heard in a Cuban jazz club in the 1940s or ’50s, smooth and melodic, bit still slightly complex, and at the same time bright.

"It’s kind of like that old idea of a beautiful melody and everything supports that," said Lauderdale.

"The first impetus for the band," he noted, "was that I was inspired by the Hollywood scenes from the 1940s."

The group started off in Portland, Ore., in 1994 as a four-piece band created almost exclusively to play benefit concerts. Lauderdale said he was the only one who was highly interested in the music of a jazz orchestra and that many of the group’s early shows involved plenty of camp and even, occasionally, men in dresses. Over time though, the band evolved, taking its current shape about eight years ago.

"As the repertory unfolded it became a jazz orchestra meets the United Nations," said Lauderdale.

He said that both he and Pink Martini singer China Forbes grew up in multi-cultural families, and because of that, they were attracted to a wide variety of musical styles. As they were also the group’s principal songwriters, their musical inclinations began to manifest themselves in the band’s songs, and as the group traveled more and more, coming across more and more diverse cultures, they simply added to their list of influences.

"It was sort of accidental," said Lauderdale.

As they wrote the songs, he noted, they’d say, "That sounds like it should be in French," or something like that, and so a variety of languages and sounds from Turkish to Portuguese found their way into the Pink Martini’s songs.

Now, a 10-member small orchestra, the band has grown up, a bit, according to Lauderdale. In general, he said that these days the group tends to take itself a little more seriously. The men rarely wear dresses these days.

"And I think everyone sounds a lot better," he said. "Everybody does take it seriously."

However, he noted, the group retains many of its original qualities.

"It has a certain kind of innocence, still," he said.

And while Portland, Ore., might not seem like the most obvious place to form and maintain a Cuban-style orchestra, the bandleader said Pink Martini owed its existence to the area.

"I think a band like this could only come out of the Pacific Northwest," he said.

Only there, he noted, could one find the cost of living, humility, cultural diversity and music scene to inspire such a group, he said.

"It’s like a down-home Midwestern hospitality crossed with the liberalism of the West Coast," said Lauderdale. "In Oregon there’s a lot of time to do stuff, and it’s the cheapest city, by far, on the West Coast."

So, to present the full package, Pink Martini will come to Park City as a Portland, Ore., band with a Cuban jazz orchestra format, Japanese, French, American and other influences (and languages). And the bandleader, a man originally from Indiana, and the singer, a woman from Cambridge, Mass., both graduated from Harvard.

"There isn’t a band like this in the country," said Lauderdale.

The group’s show will reflect that, he said.

"It’s the same show we play everywhere," he said. "It’s just a combination of everything, all together."

But, he noted, the group’s music can also be explained much more simply. Lauderdale said the show would be like a Hollywood musical from the 1940s.

"It’s very lively; it’s very fun," he said. "It’s like going to be a big party with a bunch of different cakes."

Pink Martini will play the Eccles Center in Park City on Saturday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the event range from $15 to $50, with discounts available for students, seniors and teens and are available at http://www.ecclescenter.org or by calling 655-3114.


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