By Anita Malhotra
Few people can say they have appeared as a soloist with a major symphony orchestra, aspired to be mayor, founded a band whose albums have sold more than three million copies, and worn a cocktail dress in public. Portland-based pianist and composer Thomas Lauderdale, who launched Pink Martini in 1994, has done all these things and more.
Under his direction, Pink Martini has released eight best-selling albums of tuneful, sultry songs in 25 languages that blend world, jazz, pop, lounge and classical styles. From its origins as a four-member band playing Portland parties for progressive causes, it has grown to 12+ members, including vocalist China Forbes, who co-writes many of the songs with Lauderdale. In the process, the “little orchestra” has toured much of the world, played with more than 50 symphony orchestras, and appeared at such venues as the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, L’Olympia theatre in Paris and Royal Albert Hall.
Anita Malhotra spoke by phone with Thomas Lauderdale, who was in Portland, on June 17, 2015.
AM: What are your earliest memories of music?
TL: I was born in Oakland, California and my family moved when I was two to Indiana. My parents were from the earnest side of the ‘60s. They had a reel-to-reel tape machine and there were six things that made up my childhood in terms of music. They were: Ray Conniff, Ray Charles, Roger Miller, the New Christy Minstrels, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar. In addition, my father was a Church of the Brethren minister – one of the three peace denominations along with the Quakers and Mennonites. I was deeply affected by the hymns that were played during church – the bloody hymns of the 1880s, 1890s. So those were my biggest influences.
What all of this had in common was beautiful melodies. I never paid attention to lyrics until we started writing songs for the band. It was always about melody for me. Because the lyrics are in 25 different languages, the common thing holding them all together are the melodies. So one doesn’t necessarily have to speak the language to understand or to appreciate the beauty of the melody. Continue reading