Life can often take unexpected turns when the best laid plans give way to unforeseen opportunities. Thomas Lauderdale, 45, learned this first hand at the outset of his political career. Lauderdale had planned to pursue political office, but would instead go on to found the world-renowned music group Pink Martini.
In 1994 after graduating cum laude from Harvard University, Lauderdale found himself in Portland, Ore., with an ambitious goal: to run for mayor. The politically motivated Lauderdale often found himself at fundraisers and political events, growing his network. These functions would have musical entertainment, typically world or lounge music.
“I had just moved back to Oregon from college with the intention of running for political office. And at the time we were trying to overturn an amendment to the Oregon Constitution making homosexuality illegal,” Lauderdale said in a phone interview last Thursday.
Having won the Oregon Symphony’s annual Corbett Competition when he was only 15 years old, Lauderdale kept up with his passion for music on the side while focusing on his political career. Without any intention of starting a band, Lauderdale found himself struck with inspiration from an unlikely source.
“(Pink Martini) started totally accidently, so there was no vision at first,” Lauderdale said. “I had just seen Pee Wee Herman’s Christmas special, and in it he assembled all kinds of different superstars, including the Del Rubio Triplets.”
Inspired, Lauderdale had the Del Rubio Triplets flown to Portland to do a series of concerts for hospitals and nursing homes and political fundraisers. When trouble struck at a fundraiser, leaving the Del Rubio Triplets without an opening act, Lauderdale went behind the piano to save the day. Calling in friends for musical back up, Lauderdale saved the party and Pink Martini was born.
Music was quick to replace Lauderdale’s political drive. He gathered several more friends and musicians to form the band. In 1995, Lauderdale invited vocalist China Forbes, 45, to join Pink Martini.
The two of them would go on to write the single “Sympathique” which became an overnight sensation in France. The song was nominated for “Song of the Year” at the Victoires de la Musique Awards that same year.
As Pink Martini’s fame grew, the group branched out from the fundraiser circuit and played at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 along with the Oregon Symphony.
“I never really had any intention of pursuing music. … I realized anything I planned for or expected out of life would just fall through or not work out. As Pink Martini formed I sort of let it happen without expecting much, enjoyed it as it came — so our music has an element of that, I feel, carefree happiness.” Lauderdale said.
Pink Martini describes itself as a miniature orchestra. Originally from Portland, the ensemble has crossed cultural boundaries with its fusion of jazz and lounge music. The band is famous for its cross-cultural musical stylings, with songs in a variety of languages and of varied world genres. The band’s 14 members allow it to cover a wide spectrum of styles and languages.
The constantly evolving band continued to expand, bringing in percussionists, string players and more vocalists, including Storm Large.
Large, 46, had made a name for herself as a contestant on the CBS reality show, Rock Star: Supernova. A Portland resident herself, she joined Pink Martini in 2011 while Forbes underwent throat surgery, and has been a staple of the band ever since.
Marrying various styles from around the world, a Pink Martini album is a musical tapestry of languages and cultures. On the album “Hang On Little Tomato,” Pink Martini calls forth the Mediterranean with “Una note a Napoli” before seamlessly diving into Japanese with the song “Kikuchiyo to Mohshimasu.”
Pink Martini’s sound is unobjectionable, often jubilant and friendly. The title track “Hang on Little Tomato” is a song of encouragement, urging bravery and perseverance in the face of adversity.
“Heinz ketchup had an ad, way back in the day, that said ‘Hang on little tomato’ with a picture of a tomato on the vine. And it was funny because it was a seemingly happy slogan, but the dark part was that it had to hold on so that it could be plucked and you know, eaten,” Lauderdale said about the writing of the song. “And so the idea sort of grew from there. We would work on it a bit at a time and it became a sort of cheer for this tomato to hold on tight to the vine, though it does have that dark undertone.”
In 2013 Pink Martini released its sixth studio album, “Get Happy,” encapsulating the themes and message of its music.
Pink Martini with Storm Large will perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, at the Mariner Theatre. Tickets currently are on sale at $35 for Homer Council on the Arts members and $50 for the general public. A $100 VIP ticket includes early admission and seat selection for the performance, as well as an exclusive post-show cocktail party. Two Sisters will provide hors d’oeuvres and the Grog Shop will provide drinks, with Nick’s Taxi donating safe rides home from the cocktail party. Tickets can be purchased at the Homer Council on the Arts, at its website, www.homerart.org, or the Homer Bookstore.
Fermin Martinez is a freelance writer living in Homer.
when: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14
where: Mariner Theatre
ticket info:$35 Homer Council on the Arts members, $50 general admission, $100 VIP tickets with early admission and post-show cocktail party. On sale at HCOA, www.homerart.org and the Homer Bookstore.