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Shaking it up: Retro jazz group Pink Martini pours their fun into Fairbanks

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Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2012 10:55 pm | Updated: 1:53 pm, Thu Jan 24, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Pianist Thomas Lauderdale finds musical connections in the most unlikely places. Samba, meet jazz. Classical, meet pop. Schubert, let me introduce you to the tango.

Music lovers, meet Pink Martini.

A 12-piece mini-orchestra that plays its own elegantly chilled brand of sophisticated lounge pop, Lauderdale’s Pink Martini has sold millions of albums and has hit records in France and Japan and a dedicated following in other far-flung locales. The multi-lingual musicians, including singer China Forbes, feature a wildly diverse repertoire Lauderdale describes as “‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ or ‘Mame’ meets the United Nations with a tiny bit of radical politics.”

The band’s first album, “Sympathique,” garnered nominations for “Song of the Year” and “Best New Artist” in France. The title song has become an anthem for French workers. In 2011, a collaboration with Japanese singer Saori Yuko, “1969,” was certified platinum in Japan with glittering reviews.

Based in Portland, Ore., Pink Martini has played with symphony orchestras around the world and collaborated with celebrated musicians and others not necessarily noted for their music.

“I love actually collaborating,” Lauderdale said by phone this week. “It’s the most interesting time I have at this time at this point. We’ve been in existence for 18 years. Whether it’s Phyllis Diller or Ari Shapiro or drag queens from New York City, it brings different energies to the project and keeps me on my toes and keeps the band members on their toes.”

Lauderdale and Pink Martini are performing tonight at Hering Auditorium as a special event of the Fairbanks Concert Association. Lauderdale is excited about his first visit to Alaska, musing “at times like this I wish I knew how to bobsled.”

He would love to see a moose and the aurora and laments that he knows little about the state, “I can’t see Alaska from where I am, even with binoculars.”

He has toured all over the globe with Pink Martini, a band he started in 1994 when he noted a shortage of appropriate music for political events. He and Forbes met at Harvard where they spent hours singing songs from Verdi and Barbra Streisand around the piano instead of studying.

“We’ve been to Turkey and France and a lot in Europe and more in Asia lately,” he said. “America is just endlessly interesting when you get more inside like Texas and Illinois and Indiana, my home state.”

Pink Martini has released seven albums and a live DVD and is working on another, tentatively titled “Get Happy,” which will include the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile,” which Lauderdale recorded with a 94-year-old Phyllis Diller in January 2012.

“We’re really lucky in the sense we’re an independent band on our own label putting out the kind of music that isn’t necessarily on everyone’s radar,” he said.

Laude rdale is an effervescent personality on and off stage. He is also a lifelong student of politics and recently found a way to honor a heroine of the 1960s civil rights era.

Myrlie Evers-Williams gave up a potential career as a singer to marry Medgar Evers, whose 1963 death prompted President Kennedy to ask for a comprehensive civil rights law.

Lauderdale recently learned that Williams’ dream had always been to perform at Carnegie Hall. Next week, Williams, now 79, will realize the dream she gave up 60 years ago. She will perform at Carnegie Hall with Pink Martini.

Such connections have made the journey worthwhile, although the road hasn’t always been easy, he acknowledged.

“Knowing now what I know, I would never have embarked on it,” Lauderdale said. “It can be so exhausting. Certainly it’s been an ongoing venture and I’ve tried to make it entertaining. I love the band. I love the songs. I love the people most of the time, and I really love to be able to travel and play music and not have to work under fluorescent lights.”

If someone could turn the aurora on for him tonight, though, he’d appreciate it.

If you go

What: Pink Martini

When: 8 p.m. tonight (Dec. 7)

Where: Hering Auditorium

Tickets: $36-$98, available at Alaskatix, Grassroots Guitar

Info: www.fairbanksconcert.org and pinkmartini.com

Contact staff writer Julie Stricker at 459-7532.

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