Belly up to the symphony with Pink Martini |

Belly up to the symphony with Pink Martini

Joel Stonington
Pink Martini, with lead singer China Forbes, left, brings its unique sound to the Belly Up this week.

Pink Martini is hard to sum up.It has samba, jazz and classical, but it’s definitely not any of these specifically. There’s some fruit punch (or maybe tomato juice), a little pepper, two shots of vodka, perhaps a splash of vermouth, depending on the day. “It’s like a Hollywood Technicolor musical crossed with Japanese film noir and a Brazilian batacada marching ensemble with a tiny bit of Frenchness,” said Thomas Lauderdale, founder and pianist for Pink Martini. “It’s Mary Poppins meets the United Nations. It sounds sort of nuts.”It’s a series of fabulous little cupcakes which are each beautifully decorated and adorned and bedazzled.” In other words, there’s no simple box to put Pink Martini in.

Regardless of how you define Pink Martini, though, the band has fans. Their first album, “Sympathique,” sold more than 700,000 copies; their second, “Hang on, Little Tomato,” has sold 475,000. Both were released on Heinz Records (named for Lauderdale’s dog, Heinz). And though the band’s roots are in the United States – they are based in Portland, Ore. – most of its record sales have been in Europe. When it comes to playing live, Pink Martini often teams up with symphony orchestras. They’ve played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Oregon Symphony, Boston Pops and Seattle Symphony. “Playing symphony concerts are interesting because it’s sit-down, more formal, the audience is older and it’s almost classical in approach,” said Lauderdale. “Clubs are raucous and tend to be louder and giddier and people are dancing. The idea is to bring a little of the club into the symphony and a little of the symphony into the club.”Our repertoire has the feeling of a 1940s Broadway musical. The music lends itself to playing with a symphony. Everything is just better with strings.”Plus, the money earned playing with the symphony allows the band to play smaller clubs, like the Belly Up, where they’ll be Wednesday, April 5. “Being an independent band in the U.S. is difficult, especially when the band is this size, anywhere from 10 to 12, sometimes 14 people,” Lauderdale said. “[Playing with the symphony] has bankrolled our ability to travel in the U.S.”Among the bigger concerts Pink Martini has played was the grand opening of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003. They went back to play two sold-out performances for the hall’s first New Year’s Eve and two more sold-out shows on New Year’s Eve 2004. They also performed for the opening of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and with Al Green at the William Morris Agency’s 100th birthday bash. But Lauderdale didn’t always envision himself an entertainer.

“I thought I was going to go into politics but then got sidetracked and decided a band was more fabulous and more fun than running for office,” said Lauderdale, who graduated from Harvard in 1992 with a degree in history and literature. “You have to stay in the office and work under fluorescent lights. With the band we get to run around the world and learn different languages.”So he moved back to his hometown of Portland, Ore., to start a band. It was not the Pink Martini that plays today.”I was in a cocktail dress. There was a boy who played the bongos, and there was a bass player. It was ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ meets ‘Hee-Haw,'” he said.Lauderdale didn’t get along well with the singer, however, and started plotting a way to get his college friend China Forbes out to Portland. At the time she was living in New York City. “I called China Forbes and ended up flying her back and forth between Portland and New York City for several years,” said Lauderdale of the band’s now lead singer. “It took a lot of luring with cash prizes and frequent-flyer miles. Portland isn’t really on the radar for someone who lives in New York City.”Eventually it clicked, though, and Forbes relocated to the West Coast. “At a certain point, camp only goes so far,” said Lauderdale. “As it unfolded, it became clear that it was actually going to become something. In the end, it boils down to beautiful lyrics and beautiful melodies.”

Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is

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