Band of the Day

2011.11.13

Pink Martini

This multilingual mini-orchestra creates timeless songs that will make you swoon
Fortune is a fickle friend, I'm tired of chasing fate.
lyrics from Splendor in the Grass

Pink Martini is a 13-piece mini-orchestra from Portland, Oregon who have been described by the Washington Times as "bridging the high-brow/pop culture divide." The group has its origins in 1994 when founder Thomas Lauderdale (piano), at the time an aspiring politician, saw an open niche for orchestral groups at bipartisan political events. Calling upon former Harvard schoolmate China Forbes (vocals), an accomplished singer living in New York, Lauderdale solidified the core of Pink Martini. Since forming in 1994, breaking ground with their French Victoires de la Musique Song of the Year "Sympathique," Pink Martini has released five internationally acclaimed full length albums and has played at the Cannes Film Festival, the Hollywood Bowl (with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra) and the Kennedy Center (with the BBC concert Orchestra). Describing themselves as "musical archaeologists," Pink Martini's sound is influenced by '40s and '50s-era Hollywood musicals, jazz, classical, afro-cuban and pop. Singer China Forbes, who studied French and Italian, sings in 15 languages, naturally floating through diverse singing styles as well. With full creative control, all of the group's US album releases have been published on their own independent label Heinz Records. Their current album, Joy to the World, was released on November 16, 2010.

China Forbes, lead singer of Pink Martini, is like a musically-charged United Nations. She's from Massachusetts, but comes from French, Scottish, and African lineage. She sings in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Neapolitan. Even her first name is shared with the world's third largest country. So it's no surprise that Pink Martini, a 13-piece mini-orchestra from Portland, Oregon, also dabbles in a rich variety of music styles. Formed in 1994 with pianist Thomas Lauderdale—who was an aspiring politician at the time—Pink Martini was established when he saw an open niche for orchestral groups at political events. He called upon his former Harvard schoolmate, China Forbes, and the group has released five full-length albums since then. Their 1997 debut, Sympathique, incorporates everything from Latin jazz, like “Donde Estas, Yolanda?”, to utterly romantic gems like “Sympathique.” Sung entirely in French, there's a warm and cinematic quality to it—kind of like how a Woody Allen film might romanticize the city of Paris. You can almost envision the script: Act IV, Scene II. Protagonists finally realize they're madly in love. Cue “Sympathique.” They kiss passionately as the lights on the Eiffel Tower begin to twinkle. Fade to black. End scene. It's this timeless quality to Pink Martini that makes them so universally appealing. With 2004's Hang On Little Tomato, songs like “Let's Never Stop Falling In Love” also have that 'romance is in the air' feel. With its jazzy clarinet intro, the album's title track has the feel of a World War II dance hall. Lyrics like “You gotta hold on, hold on through the night/Hang on, things will be all right” are sunny and optimistic, without sounding like a cheesy inspirational poster. Collecting as many musical passport stamps as humanly possible, 2007's Hey Eugene! Is like a 12-song express trip around the world. “Bukra Wba'do” is the group's first foray into Arabic music, while “Taya Tan” is a Japanese pop track that will make you swoon. 2009's Splendor in the Grass is just as theatrical and whimsical as anything they've done to date, with the quirky 1940s-style “Bitty Boppy Betty” and their cover of Joe Raposo's “Sing” (which first became popular when The Carpenters performed in on Sesame Street). Although they've been around for nearly twenty years, Pink Martini has such a gorgeously timeless quality that there's always a perfect time or place to pop on one of their records.