Thomas Lauderdale is adamant about one thing: Pink Martini is not a jazz band and he would never, ever classify himself as a jazz pianist.
“Funny that, considering that the 12-person band is appearing at numerous jazz fests over the summer to promote the new CD Hey Eugene. It’s a dilemma that musical director and pianist Lauderdale has become accustomed to.
“I like to think of it as old-fashioned pop,” he says, laughing. “The only thing I know about jazz is that I know nothing about jazz.”
The new CD continues the band’s playful, cosmopolitan approach to music, ranging from the golden-era Hollywood melody of “Everywhere” to the French cabaret of “Ojala.” “Dosvedanya Mio Bombino” is globetrotting Latin meets Russian beats while Peruvian percussionist Martin Zarzar debuts the romantically complex “Mar Desconocido.” “It’s like a song from a Pedro Almodovar film,” says Lauderdale, “with an excerpt of a Chopin waltz in the middle of it.”
Pink Martini was formed in 1994 for a political rally. “There was this very nasty attempt to illegalize homosexuality in Oregon in 1994,” says Lauderdale. “We were on the opposition side and we had the Del Rubio Triplets perform. They were these three sisters in their 70s who lived in a mobile home; they performed in miniskirts and booties. They were hard-core Catholic and they ate steaks and martinis. The gay community just loved them. So we needed an opener for the Del Rubio Triplets and that’s originally why Pink Martini was formed.”
Lauderdale has since become known around the globe as an international ambassador for queer culture. The charismatic, blond pianist has a wicked sense of style and a flamboyant energy at the keys.
But the jazz world has a slightly uptight reputation. Why there are so few out jazz musicians?
“Jazz is just so super, super cool, and it has a reputation of being straight. Über-cool and über-straight. It’s never been very inclusive of homosexuality. There isn’t a whole lot of history of gay jazz musicians.”
Here’s hoping Lauderdale’s fun outness will rub off on a couple of those über-cool jazz dudes.