A pink cocktail
Mixing all the genres in the throwback “small orchestra” from Portland, Ore.
Songstress Storm Large says she’s always loved to challenge herself, a quality that has informed her storied career—from her garage-rock days in early 1990s San Francisco to her 2006 participation in reality TV show Rock Star: Supernova, as well as her successful forays into writing and acting.
But perhaps her single biggest professional challenge was joining established, Portland, Ore.-based “small orchestra” Pink Martini in March 2011, when the band’s regular female vocalist, China Forbes, had to take a break for throat surgery.
“I had to learn 10 songs in five languages in four days, and my first shows with Pink Martini were four sold-out shows at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.,” Large recently said via phone interview. “I was so overwhelmed I don’t even remember the shows, but was told I did OK.”
That was just the beginning of Large’s trial by fire; as Forbes recovered, Large spent 250 days of the next year on the road with the band, playing sold-out shows throughout the United States and Europe. Even after Forbes recovered, Large was invited to stay on to share vocal duties. Today, she’s still glad to have accepted the offer.
“I love them as people; we’d been friends a long time, so it’s kind of like hanging out with my friends and going cool places,” Large said. “Having performed with them the last three years has been so educational—stylistically and linguistically. I sing in 15 different languages and now I speak some French, so it’s been so good for my brain.”
Pink Martini was the brainchild of bandleader Thomas Lauderdale who, as an aspiring politico in 1994, grew bored with the music commonly played at political actions, fundraisers and other events. He also happened to be a Harvard-trained classical pianist, and enlisted the help of college pal Forbes to start what would become Pink Martini. Since then, the band—which usually numbers 10 to 12 musicians—has performed around the world, sometimes joined by larger symphonies in various locales.
The band’s repertoire includes international jazz, classical and pop standards from a more gilded age and original compositions in the same spirit, prompting Lauderdale to sometimes liken the band to “the United Nations’ house band, circa 1962.”
Pink Martini is also known for its live and recorded collaborations with other artists. For example, the band’s most recent album, 2013’s Get Happy, includes guest stars ranging from melancholic crooner Rufus Wainwright to National Public Radio White House Correspondent Ari Shapiro. It also contains the last known work of Hollywood legend Phyllis Diller—a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” that the actress and Lauderdale recorded in her Los Angeles living room six months before her death in 2012. The next album, scheduled for release in March, is a collaboration with The von Trapps (as in the descendants of Captain and Maria von Trapp, immortalized in The Sound of Music) called Dream a Little Dream.
Large said the band’s connections are another interesting facet of performing with Pink Martini, noting she especially liked singing with Wainwright and Australian-born cabaret artist Meow Meow.
“Thomas has really great taste in artists, and also in characters,” she said, “people who are incredibly talented and also absolutely lovely human beings.”