INTERVIEW: Pink Martini 

With equal dashes Esquivel lounge and Martin Denny exotica, chilled on retro rocks and poured into a Camelot-era America glass, Pink Martini is the ultimate in sophisticated pop cool and classic, jazzy swing. Since 1994, this ensemble from Portland, Oregon, has traveled the world plugging into orchestras along the way. It's breathtaking. It's an elegant spectacle. It's freakin' beautiful.

It's amazing that this band isn't colossal given its worldly appeal. It sells out wherever it goes, from Japan to England to you name it. Perhaps fans are tight-lipped, wanting to keep Pink Martini all to themselves. But singer China Forbes doesn't blame it on stingy allegiance. It's not as if the band is wallowing in obscurity.

"People aren't secretive," Forbes says. "Some fans buy 10 copies of the album to give to their friends. I think we're not bigger than we are because we're just outside the mainstream music business. We don't have radio play, we don't have music videos, we don't do all of that. We're just kind of doing it our own way. It's kind of miraculous it's as big as it is actually... but it could be a lot bigger. The more people the music reaches, the better. We're playing some of the best venues in the world, so I don't know what else we can do in that regard. I don't think stadiums are where we belong."

Pink Martini leader Thomas Lauderdale initially chose the political path. The band that would be Pink Martini was a fluke.

"Thomas Lauderdale and I went to school together at Harvard," says Forbes. "He moved back home to Oregon to get into politics and formed Pink Martini to open up at a political fundraiser. Soon, Pink Martini became a local favorite in Portland. He called me and asked me to come and sing with the band."

Forbes was made for the part.

"I was majoring in studio art," she says. "Painting was my focus. Then I switched to English literature. But what I really spent my time doing was music and theater. I wasn't acknowledged for that because it's considered an extra-curricular. I spent all my time in the theater. I did like 30 productions while I was there."

According to Forbes, the band grew of its own volition.

Lauderdale "kept adding instruments," she says. The group went from a five-piece to a 12-piece. It went from playing kitschy covers like "I Dream Of Genie" and "Hernando's Hideaway" to writing original songs like "Sympathique," which was nominated for song of the year in France in 1995, or "Taya Tan," which is sung in Japanese — one of the "18 or so" languages Forbes sings in.

To call Pink Martini's songs, or the ones the band covers, "retro" would be missing the point. The sound is classic, the sound is now.

"It has to go through a vintage filter, I think," says Forbes. "A lot of songs that I write are songs that are personal, autobiographical, and kind of pop. When I write with or for Pink Martini, I sort of go into another style. But the thing with the band is it's really open. You can kind of get away with anything as long is it's arranged in the Pink Martini style."

Part of that style means plugging into orchestras wherever the band goes to amp up the lush and grandiose. But that system does have its drawbacks.

"The downside to an orchestra," Forbes says, "is that everything is organized and planned. You can't really be spontaneous or deviate from the program, and it's a little formal. We try to bring the fun to whatever venue or context we're in. When it's just the band there's a joie de vivre that can't be matched. But with an orchestra we get to play these big musical moments and that's an incredible feeling."

Pink Martini performs Friday, June 21, 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre (60 Gibbs St.). Tickets cost $55-$105.

In This Guide...

  • Friday June 21 - Schedule

    3:45, 4:30 & 5 p.m.: High School Jazz Bands Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 5:30 p.m.: Quincy Jones Presents: Nikki Yanofsky Harro East Ballroom ($20-$25, or Club Pass)

  • Friday, June 21 - Artist Bios

    Bill Dobbins Bill Dobbins is director of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble and Eastman Studio Orchestra, but European jazz aficionados know him as the long-time conductor of the WDR Big Band (1994-2002) and occasional conductor of the Metropole Orchestra. Dobbins is also an excellent pianist who has played with Clark Terry, Phil Woods, and Peter Erskine.

  • Saturday, June 22 - Schedule

    1 p.m.: Student Jazz Workshops Eastman School of Music (Room 120) 3:45, 4:30 & 5:15 p.m.: High School Jazz Bands Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

  • Saturday, June 22 - Artist Bios

    78 RPM Big Band This group originated in the early 70's as an Oktoberfest band in Western New York. Over the years it has traded the oom-pa-pa-oom for some sweet swing a la Glenn, Tommy, and Artie.

  • Sunday, June 23 - Schedule

    1 p.m.: Student Jazz Workshops Eastman School of Music (Room 120) 3:45, 4:30 & 5:15 p.m.: High School Jazz Bands Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

  • INTERVIEW: Marti Brom

    There's a spot in certain female voices — a transitional spot, if you will — between sweet vibrato and growl. Texas rockabilly songstress Marti Brom traverses this vocal twilight beautifully, leaving a slew of broken hearts in her wake.

  • Sunday, June 23 - Artist Bios

    BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet Brothers Michael and David Doucet began touring Louisiana in 1986. Since then their cajun dance music has earned them Grammy nominations and even a Super Bowl performance.

  • Jazz Festival Guide 2013

    Exclusive interviews, artist bios and interviews
    CITY Newspaper's guide to the biggest music festival in Rochester! For more coverage, check our website every day of the festival for reviews, blogs, photos and more!

  • Monday, June 24 - Schedule

    Noon: Mike Kaupa Quartet Central Library (FREE) 4:30 & 5:15 p.m.: High School Jazz Bands Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

  • Monday, June 24 - Artist Bios

    Alfredo Rodriguez When Alfredo Rodriguez plays a ballad, he leans so far into the piano that you might think he's kissing the keys. In a way he is, with the exquisite touch of his fingers.

  • Tuesday, June 25 - Schedule

    Noon: Nick Finzer Central Library (FREE) 4:30 & 5:15 p.m.: High School Jazz Bands Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

  • INTERVIEW: Anat Cohen

    When Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen steps out of her Brooklyn home, she finds herself between two worlds. Cohen resides in Williamsburg, a vital neighborhood in the New York jazz scene.

  • Tuesday, June 25 - Artist Bios

    Alfredo Rodriguez See listing for Monday, June 24. Anat Cohen See feature on page 22.

  • Wednesday, Jun 26 - Schedule

    Noon: Ted Nicolosi and Shared Genes Central Library (FREE) 4:30 & 5:15 p.m.: High School Jazz Bands Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

  • Wednesday, Jun 26 - Artist Bios

    Aaron Goldberg Trio When Wynton Marsalis hired Aaron Goldberg to play piano for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, he called him "a modern improviser of great clarity, finesse, and dexterity." A sought-after sideman, Goldberg has lent his keyboard talents to Betty Carter, Joshua Redman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and many others.

  • Thursday, June 27 - Schedule

    Noon: Herb Smith Central Library (FREE) 1 p.m.: Student Jazz Workshops Eastman School of Music (Room 120)

  • INTERVIEW: Rudresh Mahanthappa

    It's not unusual for a jazz artist to lead several groups, but Rudresh Mahanthappa just might hold the record. He leads or co-leads 10 different ensembles.

  • Thursday, June 27 - Artist Bios

    Bob James and David Sanborn with Steve Gadd Saxophonist David Sanborn has played with famous artists from every genre imaginable — David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, the Grateful Dead, Billy Joel, and Eric Clapton are just a few. For this concert he will be joined by keyboardist Bob James, drummer Steve Gadd, and bassist James Genus.

  • Friday, June 28 - Schedule

    Noon: Karl Stabnau Central Library (FREE) 1 p.m.: Student Jazz Workshops Eastman School of Music (Room 120)

  • INTERVIEW: Gas House Gorillas

    So, five gorillas walk into a bar... But seriously folks, five guys from Brooklyn walk into a joint in Anytown, USA, and promptly take the stage.

  • Friday, June 28 - Artist Bios

    Ben Taylor Imagine the expectation that comes with being the son of James Taylor and Carly Simon. Ben Taylor lives up to that expectation, but with a voice all his own.

  • Saturday, June 29 - Schedule

    1 p.m.: Student Jazz Workshops Eastman School of Music (Room 120) 3:45, 4:30 & 5:15 p.m.: High School Jazz Bands Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

  • Saturday, June 29 - Artist Bios

    Al Chez & the Brothers of Funk No doubt you've seen his mug and heard his horn on the tube. For 15 years he honked his horn on "Late Night with David Letterman."

  • Festival Information

    Tickets, Venues, Parking
    The 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival Friday, June 21-Saturday, June 29

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