July 20, 2013
The eclectic sounds of Pink Martini have resulted in a following sufficient to fill the Hollywood Bowl for three nights. Accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pink Martini delivered with panache another evening of music from around the globe.
The band was founded by two Harvard grads, and they bring a worldly and accessible perspective to their sound. Thomas Lauderdale, an Oakland native, met China Forbes in her native Cambridge. They decamped to Portland and began building their large ensemble. The “little orchestra” of Pink Martini was often found performing at political fund raisers and social causes. Drawing from easy listening, jazz and big band, the artists getting most play in Pink Martini’s record collections were the likes of Edith Piaf, Cole Porter, Xavier Cugat, Tito Puente, Frank Sinatra and perhaps a bit of Esquivel. As a result, Pink Martini concerts flow effortlessly from bossa nova, tango, fado and salsa to French and Italian folk with dollops of Middle Eastern, Asian and Greek flavors added to the musical stew.
Forbes had left Pink Martini to have some vocal cord surgery performed, and was replaced by Storm Large. Both singers are now in the band, and they trade lead vocal duties with gusto.
Pink Martini’s Hollywood Bowl show featured Lauderdale in fine form as the pianist and master of ceremonies. He handled most of the introductions, with aplomb and a healthy dose of humor. He dedicated a song to his parents “who would be celebrating their 52nd anniversary tonight if my Dad had not come out of the closet. But my Mom’s here tonight with her new husband, and so is my Dad…he married them in fact!”
In the evening’s most touching performance, Lauderdale brought out the clarinetist and conductor Norman Leyden who many years earlier was a judge at a music competition in which Lauderdale competed in Portland. Leyden also worked with myriad artists from Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra to Sarah Vaughan “and tonight he is making his Hollywood Bowl debut…at age 95!” He was accompanied slowly to center stage by two ladies, but when he swung his clarinet into action, the Bowl was in the palm of Leyden’s hands. The power of music to uplift and outlast was made evident at that moment.
In an evening filled with Hollywood Bowl debuts, Lauderdale introduced the Japanese singer Saori Yuki, with whom Pink Martini recorded a recent album. She is the first Japanese performer to make the Billboard charts since Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” in 1963. Improbably, NPR’s Ari Shapiro often performs with Pink Martini, and delivered a swaggering and confident performance at the Bowl.
For the encore, Lauderdale ushered the various guests back on stage. An oblique introductory reference to the Von Trapp Family Singers seemed to most folks like a joking nod to the “Sound of Music” sing along at the Bowl (or perhaps the scene from the film’s end when the family is already climbing mountains), but indeed Pink Martini has recorded with those legends as well.
The blissful setting of the Bowl was perfect for the accomplished and easygoing sounds of Pink Martini. They have found a niche by respecting a broad swath of music styles.