Q&A with Pink Martini, at the Adrienne Arsht Center this Friday

Check out this clip from a 2006 PBS documentary about the band, in which they perform their song "Hey Eugene."

Pink Martini’s music is the kind of music that makes you want to fall in love. Each album contains all the perfect elements of a relationship -- drama, seduction, sadness, and a melancholy sweetness that makes one just want to sit back with a glass of wine and swoon. The Portland, Oregon-based mini orchestra traverse the globe's vintage melodies, from the sounds of Fifties Hollywood musicals, to Tango, to French chanson, and so much more -- the perfect soundtrack to any 21st-century swinger's soirée.

The four original members founded the group in 1994 to play political fundraisers for progressive causes such as civil rights, the environment, and affordable housing. In the years that followed, Pink Martini has grown to its current cast of 12, and gone on to perform its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Canada and the U.S.

The group's debut album, Sympathique, was released independently in 1997 and became an international hit, almost immediately garnering the group nominations for “Song of the Year” and “Best New Artist” in France’s Victoires de la Musique Awards. Seven years later, their highly anticipated follow-up album, Hang on Little Tomato, almost instantly climbed to Amazon.com’s bestsellers list. And the group's latest offering, Hey Eugene, continues where the previous two left off.

Friday, Pink Martini performs with the Miami Pops Orchestra at the Knight Concert Hall in the Adrienne Arsht Center. This concert will kick off a new Latin series for the Miami Pops for its upcoming 2008-2009 season, focus on collaborations with popular global Latin artists. (For more information on this series check out the Concert Florida Association’s web site at www.concertfla.org.

New Times caught up with Pink Martini founder and artistic director, Thomas M. Lauderdale, by telephone on a recent afternoon as the group prepared for a performance in Washington, D.C. Here’s what he had to say about touring, the music and everything else in between. -- Michelle Stoltzenburg

You all comprise a large group of musicians. Does this create problems when touring?

Oh of course! It’s like a gigantic family. But the amazing thing is that since we’re all performers we have tend to for most parts get along when we’re on tour. We try to keep a professional attitude while still having some fun.

You recently performed at the Cannes Film Festival. How did this come about?

We just took ourselves there actually. China [Forbes, singer] and I went one year because she was into film at the time. We saw that there were a couple bands there so we negotiated a few parties and ended up playing quite a bit.

What a way to market yourself eh?

Yeah, actually we ended up making quite a few fans and contacts from it.

Your music is comprised of a lot of global musical elements. Has is it a marketing nightmare trying to promote yourself, since it doesn't fit into an easy category?

We really haven’t had too many problems. Our plan was that we would create very accessible songs that would have a broad appeal. We also focused on creating live performances that would appeal to all types of people. Our original goal was to reach people on a global level and not just cater to a specific genre or age group. Our music reaches people on many different levels.

People tell us that they came across our music in the weirdest places. Our music tends to sell from our concerts, word of mouth, and when it’s played at things like dinner parties. NPR (National Public Radio) has been a big help as well! So yeah, we don’t always go the traditional way when promoting our music.

When you perform with the Miami Pops Orchestra, will the performance be mostly Latin or your traditional format?

We’ll be playing our usual format with some possible improvisation as well, so it should be a really fun performance. We’ve performed in Tampa and Clearwater before but never Miami, so we’re really looking forward to it as well as some warm, sunny weather!

What was it like working with legendary jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott on Hey Eugene?

Wow, yeah he’s a legend! So of course we were really excited to collaborate on a song. We were performing in Portland and just called him up and asked him if he would perform with us at the shows, and he did. It ended up being a fun time that he agreed to record a song with us for the album as well. I’ve always been a fan of his and this experience was just incredible!

Is there anybody that you want to record or work with, with whom you haven’t yet?

China Forbes would like to record with Donna Summer, and Grace Jones would be fun as well! Add some Laurie Anderson to the mix as well right? Wow! That would be really sick but cool as well (laughs)! There are so many people we would love to work with, the list is too long.

While in college you started this group with intentions of creating music while performing to benefit conscious causes. Do you still actively try to do this?

Yes, we actually do as much as possible! Mostly political lately, but we’re open to a lot of different causes to help out with.

What are your opinions on the current state of the music industry? Does it affect you in any way? We’ve been lucky, because we’re an independent band so we’ve been basically doing a lot on our own. It’s tough to see musicians struggle to get their music noticed by the public. The band has been very lucky, and we really have been under the radar for the most part, except for NPR and a few other outlets that have helped us. So we don’t really feel it as much pressure as others because we’re not really a mainstream band.

Any projects down the road?

We want to release another CD in the spring of 2009 and China Forbes just released a solo project. We are spending more time in Europe as well. We're looking forward to performing in Miami and I hope we turn some more people on to our music!

Pink Martini performs with the Miami Pops Orchestra Friday, March 21 at the Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1301 Biscayne Blvd, Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $65 to $105. Visit www.carnivalcenter.org.


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