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Curtain Up: Pink Play


By Anne Burke

Published Apr 1, 2006 12:00 PM

Pink Martini makes the kind of music that George Clooney would slip into the CD player if he were to invite you to the penthouse for a nightcap. He’d be in a dark cashmere crewneck, you, a black sheath with a Gaulois burning in a longstem cigarette holder.

OK, so that’s not going to happen. There’s no smoking in the penthouse. But a little Pink Martini is good for you. The band plays Royce Hall on June 22 and 23. If you see them, you’ll know what everyone is talking about.

Pink Martini plays Royce Hall on June 22 and 23. See UCLA Live for ticket information and prices.

Pink Martini is a 12-piece orchestra from Portland, Ore., that plays world lounge music, from Cuban rumbas to French café songs and Japanese koto music. Their songs are beautifully melodic but also witty, urbane and ironic. The title of their latest CD, Hang on Little Tomato, was inspired by a 1964 Hunt’s Ketchup ad, and the album includes songs in French, Italian, Croatian, Spanish and Japanese. Sympathique, Pink Martini’s first album, has sold more than 650,000 copies. After waiting seven long years for a follow-up, fans are giddy with Tomato.

Los Angeles especially loves Pink Martini. The band sells more records and concert tickets here than anywhere else besides Portland. Pink Martini loves L.A. back. Thomas Lauderdale, the band’s flamboyant founder and leader, concedes that Pink Martini might still be a local Portland phenom were it not for the KCRW music director, Nic Harcourt, who “really championed the band when we weren’t being played on any radio station in America,” Lauderdale says.

Lauderdale is a classically trained pianist with a mop of platinum-blond hair, black-frame eyeglasses and a penchant for progressive politics. He and the lead vocalist, China Forbes, met as undergraduates at Harvard, where they both graduated cum laude. While urban hipsters are well represented at Pink Martini shows, Lauderdale goes to pains to point out the band can play Peoria, or rather Bismarck, where Pink Martini has performed twice and has a loyal following.

Lauderdale started out in local politics — he helped draft Portland’s first civil rights ordinance — and hasn’t given up on the idea of getting back into the fray. In the meantime, he sees himself as a musical ambassador. Far better known in Europe than America, Pink Martini spends much of the year abroad. Lauderdale, who is adopted, describes himself as “mystery Asian,” and likes to think that the band’s mélange of international influences does something — however small — to promote America as a place that cares what other countries think.

“I feel I’m a diplomat,” says the blunt-spoken Lauderdale. “It’s just that I’m not diplomatic.”