Pink Martini will bring its international flavor to jazz festival

05:00 AM, Jun 16, 2013

Pink Martini. Provided by Heinz Records. (Provided by Heinz Records.)/


Written By Leah Stacy

If you go

What: Pink Martini.
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St.
Cost: $55 to $105.
For tickets: (585) 454-2060 or rochesterjazz.com.

While Pink Martini does play jazz, the opening night headliner for Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival is hard to pigeonhole.

The band has Parisian, Brazilian and Cuban influences, but also plays American standards.

With its 10 to 12 members, Portland, Ore.-based Pink Martini touts itself as a “little orchestra” and has a penchant for playing political gatherings, thanks to the Harvard roots of founder Thomas Lauderdale and vocalist China Forbes.

A few of the band members, like bassist Phil Baker and guitarist Dan Faehnle, are well-known in jazz circles. And the name of the band is inspired by Lauderdale’s love for jazz great Henry Mancini and the score for Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Yet Forbes doesn’t like for Pink Martini to be categorized as jazz.

We dabble in the festivals, but we’re definitely not a jazz band — we don’t fit into any category,” said Forbes in a recent phone interview from her home in Portland.

Many reviewers have used such expressions as “bubbly,” “cosmopolitan” and “retro elegance” to describe Pink Martini’s decidedly international sound.

Pink Martini’s first recording, “Sympathique,” was a hit in France, earning the band a song of the year nomination at France’s Victoires de la Musique Awards. The diversity continued from there, ranging from work for filmmakers and Sesame Street, to multilingual collaborations such as 1969, created with legendary Japanese singer Saori Yuki.

Forbes joined the band in 1997, when Lauderdale persuaded her to leave New York City, where she was starting to build a career as a singer/songwriter. Her longest break from the group came in 2011, when a polyp on her vocal cords forced a period of silence and surgery. She took a year off from the band, and singer Storm Large stepped in.

Not speaking for two weeks at a time (twice) was very good for me because I needed to shut up for a while,” Forbes says. “I found humility and appreciation I had lacked. I got a better perspective on how and what my best role could be in the band.”

On the brink of Pink Martini’s latest North American tour, Forbes is once again in full band mode, conducting back-to-back phone interviews from her porch on an unusually sunny Portland day. But she has a new arrangement, splitting the band’s tour dates with Large so she can spend time with her toddler, Cameron.

Storm did a great job, so it was a perfect situation because I didn’t want to tour as much, and I no longer had to,” Forbes says. “I think it was fun for Thomas to work with someone else and it refreshed everything.”

Pink Martini has certainly undergone changes in the past few years, but Forbes says the concert formula is set.

We’re gonna do the same show no matter where we are; France and the U.K. get the same show as North America,” she said. “We just do our music. It’s always the same style of set — our most popular and brand new songs alike.”

If they’re lucky, Rochester audiences might hear something from the new Pink Martini album slated for release in September. The band also is working on an album with the great-grandchildren of Georg and Maria Von Trapp, which is set to release in March 2014.

Forbes also is working on two of her own albums: one of children’s songs she’s written for her son, and a solo project that places her in the singer/songwriter role.

In the meantime, though, she’s grateful to be part of Pink Martini again.

We just went to Europe, and from the crew to the band, there was not a woman in sight,” she says. “But I love the guys. We’ve been together so long, through hard times, and suddenly I have a better attitude about being on the road. I realized I’m really lucky to have this as a career, and having time away made me realize how much I missed it. You need that interruption sometimes.”