Thanks for chatting with Vintage Life! Tell readers about Pink Martini…
We are an eclectic “mini orchestra” from Portland, Oregon who sings in all languages and perform all genres. One minute I can be singing in French and the next minute Xhosa.
How did the orchestra come together?
There were five people at first; Thomas on piano, Adam Levey was the conga player, Steve Cannon on trumpet, Linde Mah singing and John Wager on bass. They were playing a lot of Latin music and the congas were there so it wasn’t an orchestra at this point. It was all covers, because Thomas loves music from his past and everything from the past. He is very vintage. It was fun and effective. It was the cocktail revival. He doesn’t like to be associated with that, but it seeped in by osmosis. He thought of the name Pink Martini pretty spontaneously. Breakfast At Tiffany’s is one of his favourite movies. He likes Henry Mancini, Pink Panther, Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Pink Martini sounds like a band that you would see in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. I wanted to write songs – we had already met at Harvard when he asked me to come sing (in Portland). It was a lark, because I was in New York doing singer-songwriter stuff. He asked me to come out the next month to do some more shows. He had started with one singer, but that didn’t work out. I got kind of roped in and then it was really fun, everything was great and then I went back to New York. Eventually, he found other singers, but it never took and he kept not wanting to work with them. He had me come to Portland for a month and he pitched it to me to do an artist in residence and to spend a whole month in this cool little carriage house outside of Portland. “We’ll write songs and we will record,” and so I said okay. We finally started writing and we wrote “Je ne veux pas travailler, (Sympathique)” together, which turned out to be our biggest hit.
So we are a band from America that sings songs in all the languages of the countries that we travel to. Nobody else is doing it and it gives them a sense of ownership when we go to Greece and we sing in Greek or Turkey and sing in Turkish.They feel respected and acknowledged. It is just considerate and it is inclusive. There is no substitute for the communication that you can have between you and your audience when you are singing to them in their own language.
Do you all have a performing background?
I suppose we all do have a musical background. If you mean was I trained, no. I can sing madrigals, I sang in choirs and in musical theatre, I was in a rock band, I sing folk songs and I play guitar. I did all kinds of music, so for me being part of Pink Martini, which is so incredibly eclectic, is natural. However, the one area where it wasn’t easy is I am not trained. I was just singing and I didn’t really think about pitch and intervals. I don’t know musical theory and I can write songs, but I can’t actually write down the music. I can’t write sheet music like Thomas, who can whip out a pencil and he can arrange the song on paper for people to read. I don’t have any of those abilities. A lot of the Pink Martini musicians are trained and when we started working with orchestras I felt a little bit estranged, a bit weird. That is the only thing that has been unnatural for me – stepping into the world of Classical music.
What genres of music do you perform?
Everything! Classical, Latin, Jazz, French Cabaret, film noir… a smorgasbord of genres. With this new album Je Dis Oui, there is a great version of Blue Moon by Rufus Wainwright and a song in Xhosa, which was a signature song by Miriam Makeba called Pata Pata. Other songs are in French, Arabic, Farsi, Portuguese and Turkish, oh and Armenian, which we also haven’t done before.
You have performed in many countries around the world – which have stood out to you and why?
South Korea, in the city of Seoul. Usually, in other Asian countries the audience is polite and quiet, but in Seoul they were completely different and screamed like we were The Beatles. They were very responsive, very young, not sure why they are so assertive compared to other Asian countries. We also really enjoy performing in the UK and France as it is almost like family when we go there.
If Pink Martini could perform for anyone, who would you choose and why?
Barack Obama, he is an elegant, brilliant, kind man, I am so proud that he has been our president for the last 8 years.
Who are your icons?
Donna Summer, she always reminded me of my mother and I always wanted to sing with her. Others are Madonna in the 80s and of course Ella Fitzgerald.
You are touring the UK in October – to which venues will you be headed?
We are touring the whole of the UK, some places we have been to before and others we haven’t. We start the tour in Bristol and then the lovely Royal Albert Hall in London, which is now sold out. Then we head to the New Theatre, Oxford, the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, The Sage Gateshead, the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow, York Barbican, and finally The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.