It’s the smooth, smoky jazz of some nightclub in Paris or Rio or Berlin or Tokyo or Havana or Istanbul, from back in the days when men still wore tuxes and women still wore slinky evening gowns to more than just weddings and graduations. It’s a musical gateway to a fantasy realm that was indelibly stamped on our imaginations by the golden years of the silver screen. “We’re a bit like musical archaeologists, digging through recordings and scores of years past and rediscovering beautiful songs,” says Lauderdale.
And yet, surprisingly, many of Pink Martini’s most vintage-sounding numbers are originals: “Sympathique”– perhaps better-known by its chorus “Je ne veux pas travailler” – could have been plucked from the oeuvre of Edith Piaf, and indeed became a monster hit in France; but it actually was co-written by Lauderdale and lead vocalist China Forbes. They also collaborated on “Una Notte in Napoli,” which sounds like the sort of thing that you might’ve heard on the soundtrack of a movie about international espionage or art theft from the ‘40s, ‘50s or ‘60s, and on the passion-drenched tango “Let’s Never Stop Falling in Love,” among others.
Although the ensemble was gestated in Portland, Oregon – where Lauderdale was working in politics and found himself frustrated by a dearth of appropriate bands to play at fundraising events – pretty much all of its members have wildly multicultural backgrounds and impressive crossover musical credentials. Forbes sings in 15 languages at last count. The percussionists and horn players came up through the Latin jazz ranks, mostly; the string players were classically trained. One band member even has surfer music genes: Maureen Love is the sister of Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson is her cousin – so what else could she be but a classical harpist?
Since its formation in the mid-1990s, Pink Martini has played pretty much everywhere except Antarctica, fronting some the world’s most prestigious philharmonic orchestras and collaborating with everyone from Carol Channing and Jane Powell to Manhattan’s top drag queens. In 2007, then-new UN General Assembly president Srgjan Kerim, a Macedonian, ordered 30 copies of the Pink Martini album Hang on Little Tomato to pass out at his first official meeting. Maybe there is something to that old chestnut about music being the universal language, after all.
So go hang the wrinkles out of that bias-cut ‘40s satin sheath that’s tucked away in a trunk in the attic, strap on your dancing shoes and your most smoldering look and head out to UPAC on Sunday, November 14 at 7 p.m. Ticket prices are $61 for Golden Circle seating, $45 general admission and $40 for Bardavon members, and can be obtained through the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; the UPAC box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; or TicketMaster, (800) 745-3000.