Saturday 15 October 2016

If the UN had a house-band circa 1962: Thomas Lauderdale and Pink Martini

Thomas Lauderdale, China Forbes and Pink Martini
Thomas Lauderdale, China Forbes and Pink Martini
The genre-crossing pianist Thomas Lauderdale and his ensemble Pink Martini are currently on tour and will be performing in the UK from 21 October 2016, including appearing at The Royal Albert Hall. The Portland, Oregon based 'little orchestra' has a repertoire which includes classical, Latin, jazz and classic pop, and is currently celebrating its 22nd birthday. I caught up with Thomas recently to find out more.

When asked to describe the ensemble's musical style Thomas comes up with 'a rollicking around the world adventure, from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" to "La Dolce Vita"', adding that 'if the UN had a house-band circa 1962', then it would be them.

Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes
Thomas Lauderdale & China Forbes
When he founded the ensemble, Thomas never imagined that the ensemble was go on so long and be viable for nearly 25 years. He thinks that it has helped not having any goals or expectations for the ensemble, and if you ask him 'Where would you like Pink Martini to be in five year's time, his answer would be I couldn't say'. Thomas never had a plan for the ensemble, and simply responded to events; their work is simply a reflection of an ongoing adventure, which he feels makes it very nice. The only aim is to do better, and they say yes to most things.

Not only is Pink Martini remarkably long-lived, but it has been a stable ensemble for two decades. The singer China Forbes was with the ensemble from almost the beginning, along with others who are founder members or who have been with Pink Martini since near the beginning. Thomas attributes this partly to the fact that the performers are all well paid, with a fair distribution of profits from the album sales, and that they take advantage of great opportunities.

Their repertoire is a reflection of Thomas's current concerns; he calls it a journal of his daily life.
So the programme references the countries they are visiting, and who Thomas is spending time with. But everyone contributes ideas, and Thomas feels that the band members are all confident enough to make known their opinions and ideas about repertoire, and not just the band but Thomas's friends also chip in and he has one 80 year old friend who regularly listens and makes suggestions.

When I spoke to Thomas he was in Paris as part of the French leg of the ensemble's tour and so their programme included songs in French which Thomas co-wrote for the film Souvenir starring Isabelle Huppert, directed by Bavo Defurne. Thomas had met the film makers after one of Pink Martini's shows and some years later when they were working on Souvenir (which is about a forgotten Eurovision Song Contest singer attempting to make a come-back), they wanted songs and collaborated with Thomas. The song Joli Garcon from the film is on the band's new album Je dis oui. Whilst their previous album Get Happy included the late Phyllis Diller performing Smile (by Charlie Chaplin, who was a friend of Diller's) simply because Thomas happened to meet her.

Thomas works on other projects outside band, and these range from appearing as a piano soloist in his own right to collaborations with Ari Shapiro, and with the Australian cabaret artist Meow Meow, both of whom have been friends of Thomas's for years. Meow Meow recently appeared in London at the Globe Theatre as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream (see the review in The Guardian) She and Thomas have a long-term collaboration on an album and he has plans to return to the recording studio in Portland with her later this year.

During the band's UK tour (which runs opens in Bristol on 21 October and runs until 31 October, including the Royal Albert Hall on 22 October), they will be playing songs from their new album Je dis oui which is released in the UK on 21 October to coincide with the tour. Thomas's other comment about the tour is that they pray for conga lines at every performance, and will be disappointed if there aren't any. Thomas and a trio of musicians from the band will also be joining in Meow Meow's Pandemonium with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on 1 November 2016.

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