The legendarily, colorful “small orchestra” Pink Martini – created and led by pianist-arranger Thomas Lauderdale, featuring vocalists China Forbes, Stormy Large and NPR-host-turned-singer Ari Shapiro – has been making eclectic, exotic, wide-scale sounds since 1997.
Since that time, Pink Martini has grown more diverse in genre, gender, tone and ethnicity with opulently arranged songs crafted in French, Japanese, Spanish and German. Now, this week, the already-large Pink Martini expand its horizons to include the even bigger string, reed and brass of The Philadelphia Orchestra – on Nov 3. at Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Verizon Hall – with a stage wide enough to hold the entire colorful, multi-world cast.
“Everything is better with strings and a full orchestra, especially since Pink Martini has forever drawn inspiration from the golden days of Hollywood musicals in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, as well as the spectacle of global pop symphonic music,” said Lauderdale. “An orchestra such as that of the Philadelphia Orchestra can turn what we’re doing into a wall of sound. There are more opportunities in which to create different, grander sound palettes for all of our vocalists. On its own, Pink Martini can do that with just trumpet, trombone and a violin. Imagine what 60 to 90 additional players can do with our music? It just becomes that much more magnificent – more like ‘Oklahoma!’ meets the United Nations.”
Considering that Pink Martini has 11 studio albums (mostly on Lauderdale’s self-owned Heinz Records label) sung in different languages, diversity is a forever calling card of the jazzy ensemble, long before it became a buzzword.
“We never had to think of being diverse,” says Lauderdale. “We just always were that. And are that, still.”
Shapiro — one of four rotating hosts on NPR’s flagship drive-time program ‘All Things Considered’ and a one-time White House correspondent — states that as a singer in the middle of such lustrous, epic sound, that having an orchestra around he and fellow vocalist China Forbes is comparable to “surfing a magnificent, majestic wave… I say this having never surfed any waves at all. Having an orchestra behind you, as a platform to stand on, is an other-worldly experience. And that is for the audience as well, as the richness and depth of a full orchestra at its full flower can’t be beat.”
Shapiro goes on to say that when it comes to all things Pink Martini, Lauderdale’s arrangements hold space for the classicism of an orchestra’s full string section.
“There are many classical music Easter eggs hidden within so many of Pink Martini’s jazziest songs,” said Shapiro. “During one of our songs, ‘Splendor in the Grass,’ Thomas quotes Rachmaninoff. Or is it Tchaikovsky?”
Lauderdale laughs, and answers, “the Tchaikovsky piano concerto.”
And Shapiro moves forward with, “When we do that particular song with an orchestra, all of the horn players stand up and form this line of reeds and brass. Fantastic. Now when Pink Martini does that song, it is beautiful. With the Philadelphia Orchestra, it will be truly epic. So, to walk on that stage and make this music with Philly’s players, is such a privilege, something I have now been doing for 12 years, and the thrill of it never gets old.”