" Pink Martini is like a romantic Hollywood musical of the 1940s or '50s, but with a global perspective which is modern," says the band's artistic director Thomas M. Lauderdale. "We bring melodies and rhythms from different parts of the world together to create something which is new and beautiful." Classically trained pianist Lauderdale founded the band in 1994, and his Harvard classmate China Forbes joined as songwriting collaborator and lead vocalist a few years later, just before they released their first album Sympatique in 1997. Its original song in French, "Je Ne Veux Pas Travailler (I Don't Want to Work)" became a huge hit.
The band grew from four musicians to twelve, some recruited from symphony orchestras. Convened on the Disney Hall stage on this 2008 New Year's Eve were twenty musicians, plus guest artists, including legendary club singer Jimmy Scott.
Georja: Pink Martini is like a lime sorbet between courses, to clean your palate from the heaviness of 2008 and start the new year fresh.
Gerald: It was a really festive evening, hosted by a world-class "little orchestra" that in just a few years has built an incredible reputation for rediscovering and paying homage to club and pop hits of yesteryear. (Even their originals deliberately sound like oldies.)
Georja: From '50s pop tunes to chamber music to rumbas, they've been called a band without borders. Their eclectic hopping from one style to another is part of what gives their music its lightness. And hopping couldn't have been easy for the lovely, lively, and very pregnant Forbes, who expressed hope that her water wouldn't break onstage.
Gerald: They play venues all over the world. Singing in so many different languages, including Arabic, they've become ambassadors for a hipper, more sophisticated American culture.
Georja: "Bukra Wba'do (Tomorrow and the Day After)," their Arabic number, was a pop hit in Egypt in the 1960s. It's one of their liveliest. They even brought out their friendly Arabic professor [ Dr. Dirgham Sbait from Portland State] to teach the audience how to say 'Happy New Year.'
Gerald: Some of their retro style comes from old bands like Xavier Cougat's. Those big, brassy Latin numbers made me think of Rogers and Astaire in Flying Down to Rio--and, sure enough, they finished their set with "Brazil." At times, audience members were jumping up and dancing in place. I think they'd have formed a conga line to the stage if the ushers would've let them.
Georja: Another one of the catchiest tunes--an original from their third and latest album--is "Dosvedanya, Mio Bombino," about the humorous dilemma of a Russian guy who settles in southern Italy and misses the snow in Red Square.
Gerald: One of the audience favorites was "Hey Eugene!"--the title song from the same album. Forbes wrote it about a guy who asked for her phone number at a party and never called. Its theme reminded me of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain." Revenge by love song. Sweet.
Georja: Also, it was enlightening to hear Doris Day's '50s hit "Qué Será Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" sung by Forbes with the same sweet innocence as Day, but with the band's somewhat eerie Hitchcock-style accompaniment. Interestingly, the song originally came from his film The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Gerald: Jimmy Scott joined them for three numbers. His voice is high-pitched, downright childlike. Remarkable. He's past eighty, a living legend, and he sang "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Tea for Two" (a duet with Forbes), and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The audience gave him standing ovations.
Georja: His extremely original pacing and styling, along with his unique vocal quality, were surprising and fascinating. We were told Scott was the favorite singer of Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, and Madonna.
Gerald: Besides the vocals, there were two virtuoso instrumentals. Accompanied by Lauderdale and the band, Nicholas Crosa played Fritz Kreisler's "Praeludium and Allegro" for violin. Then Lauderdale played a quick and furious "Malagueña" by Ernesto Lecuona.
Georja: Trumpeter Gavin Bondy and trombonist Robert Taylor enhanced "Malagueña," "Brazil," "Amado Mio," and many other numbers with their outstanding solos.
Gerald: I give Pink Martini credit not only for inventing themselves as a small band with a big sound but also for reinventing these old genres. What's old is new again.
Georja: And across generations and cultures, enthusiastic fans appreciate their lightness of spirit.
Georja Umano is an actress-comedienne and animal advocate.
Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.
Photos by Sherri Diteman except as noted.
Pink Martini Albums
Hey Eugene! (2007)
Hang On Little Tomato (2004)
Pink Martini Tour Dates 2009
01/13/09 - Seattle, WA - Benaroya Hall
01/16/09 - Fort Worth, TX - Bass Performance Hall
01/17/09 - Fort Worth, TX- Bass Performance Hall
01/18/09 - Fort Worth, TX - Bass Performance Hall
05/15/09 - San Antonio, TX - Lila Cockrell Theatre
05/16/09 - San Antonio, TX - Lila Cockrell Theatre
05/31/09 - Portland, OR - Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
06/01/09 - Portland, OR - Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
06/09/09 - Vienna, VA - Filene Center At Wolf Trap
06/25/09 - San Francisco, CA - Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall
06/26/09 - San Francisco, CA - Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall
06/27/09 - Spokane, WA - Martin Woldson Theatre At The Fox
LA Philharmonic 2009 Season
(Selected Highlights, Contemporary Music)
Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Box office: 323.850.2000 or Ticketmaster
A Tribute to Ray Brown
Wed, Jan 28, 8 p.m.
World Music Series
Sun, Feb 8, 7:30 p.m.
Sat, Mar 1, 7:30 p.m.
Wed, Mar 18, 8 p.m.
Patti Austin: Avant Gershwin
Fri, Feb 13, 8 p.m.
Chita Rivera: The Secret Life
Sat, May 2, 8 p.m.