Pink Martini shakes things up at the Schuster

By Tim Walker

Photo: Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes backed by Pink Martini’s ‘little orchestra’photo: Chris Hornbeckerphoto: Chris Hornbecker
Pink Martini occupies a unique niche in the world of modern music, combining classical, pop, jazz, and lounge music with Latin beats and lush vocals.

The melange of styles has proven quite popular with the band’s many fans around the world—and the genesis of Pink Martini is as interesting and varied as its music.

The band’s founder, Thomas Lauderdale, was born in Oakland, California, and grew up in Indiana on a plant nursery near Ft. Wayne. When he was 12, his family uprooted and relocated to Oregon after his father, a former minister, came out as a gay man.

As a younger man, Lauderdale was very active politically and aspired to one day run for mayor of Portland. He worked in Portland’s City Hall, first under a left-leaning populist in the office of international relations and later under City Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury on the city’s civil rights ordinance. In June 2009, Lauderdale also organized a rally of support for Mayor Sam Adams, who was the first openly gay mayor of a major American city.

Disappointed with the music featured at many of the political fundraisers he attended, Lauderdale started the band Pink Martini after an impromptu appearance onstage, opening for the Del Rubio Triplets. The band’s first concerts were often politically motivated, with performances at events for progressive causes such as environmental issues, affordable public housing, civil rights, libraries, and public broadcasting. To this day, the band remains committed to its progressive and political roots, and the ensemble has gone on to perform a multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras worldwide, including the Boston Pops, San Francisco Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Lauderdale brings his large and musically diverse band—often referred to as a “little orchestra”—to Dayton on Friday, March 3, for a performance at the Schuster Center.

“We play a lot of shows every year—about 150 of them,” says Lauderdale, Pink Martini’s pianist. “But it’s not that bad, not bad at all. I’m actually at home in my building in Portland, Oregon, today, but we’re really looking forward to performing in Dayton, Ohio.”

Over the course of Pink Martini’s 23-year history, the band has released 10 successful albums–seven original albums, two collaborations (one each with Japanese singer Saori Yuki and the von Trapps, descendants of the Trapp Family Singers), and one retrospective. Their most recent release, Je dis Oui!, has proven to be one of their most popular and innovative yet.

Released in November of 2016 on the band’s own Heinz Records label, Je dis Oui! (French for “I say yes!” and pronounced “zhuh dee wee”) is a collection of 15 songs in a wide variety of different styles and moods, showcasing both of the band’s two main vocalists, China Forbes and Storm Large. Guest musicians featured on the album include Rufus Wainwright, Kathleen Saadat, Ari Shapiro, and fashion icon Ikram Goldman. The compositions range from elegant ballads to snappier, up-tempo numbers. Incredibly, with a nod toward the global community that has embraced the band’s career, the 15 songs are recorded in a variety of eight different languages: English, French, Farsi, Armenian, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish, and Xhosa.

In light of the band’s global influences and curious about the musician’s opinions on President Donald Trump, DCP asked Lauderdale what he thinks about the current political climate in Washington and the nation.

“I see this as the result of reality television and our inability to think critically as a culture,” he says. “What is surreal, and I’m actually happy about this, is that a lot of the people who like our band are huge supporters of Trump, and I see that as a good thing. Our listeners are a very diverse group of people—people of different ages, people on all sides of the political spectrum. And I really think this is a good thing because there are so few places in modern American culture where people who have such different outlooks and different approaches to life are under one rooftop,” he explains. “I’m proud that one of the few places to bring groups together like that are the concerts of Pink Martini.

“It’s such an interesting time to be politically active,” he adds with a laugh. “Our audiences are just as remarkable as anything that’s happening on-stage.”

Pink Martini performs Friday, March 3 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. in downtown Dayton. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25 and are available at the Schuster Center box office or through For more information, please visit or call 937.228.3630.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at

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