Straight up with a twist 

When you think of orchestras, the sounds of crashing cymbals and booming tympani likely come to mind. Bands, on the other hand, tend to be smaller affairs of a half dozen or fewer guitarists, drummers and keyboard players.

That’s precisely why Thomas Lauderdale, leader of Pink Martini, performing today and Wednesdsay at Davies Symphony Hall, calls the group a “little orchestra, like those bands that play in films like ‘Gilda’ with Rita Hayworth. It’s kinda old school. We have brass, strings, percussion, guitar, harp, bass and something else I can’t remember at the moment.”

Based in Portland, Ore., the 12-member group tours the world regularly, often stopping at symphonic venues.

“If it wasn’t for NPR and symphony orchestras,” says Lauderdale, “we probably wouldn’t have the career that we have in the States.”

Playing larger venues also makes the logistics of touring more feasible. “It’s not like a band where everybody gets stoned and piles into a van,” he jokes. “It’s more like the Marilyn Monroe-Tony Curtis-Jack Lemmon band in ‘Some Like It Hot.’”

Movie references are frequent in Lauderdale’s world. Despite his preternaturally blond locks, he says he probably leans more to Lemmon than Monroe. “I’d get stuck with Joe E. Brown at the end,” he laughs. “Our Marilyn would probably be China Forbes, our lead singer, or possibly Ari Shapiro, who will be performing with us in San Francisco.”

Yes, he means NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro, who will bare his vocal assets on the Davies stage. “He’s a fantastic singer,” says Lauderdale, “so much fun and so tall and so good looking. It’s very distracting!”

The world of 1950s and ’60s cinema also influences some of the music Pink Martini chooses. “The goal of creating the band was to play music that I’d want to listen to, or listen to and throw a party. I was really inspired by films like ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘The Party’ with Peter Sellers. So the idea was like a sort of global soundtrack of that era.”

The selections on their four CDs — the latest being ‘Splendor in the Grass’ — and their concerts are an eclectic mix of international music, select covers of tunes and also original songs by Lauderdale and Forbes.

“Even with the new stuff, we aim to create music that sounds like it could have been written 50 years ago. On a good day that means that the music is beautiful and hopefully the lyrics aren’t terrible,” he laughs.


Pink Martini

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. today and Wednesday

Tickets: $20 to $115

Contact: (415) 864-6000;

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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