CLEVELAND, Ohio - Thomas Lauderdale's description of his band, Pink Martini, is about as colorful as its name.
"I would say it's old-fashioned symphonic global pop, and a cross between 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and the United Nations in 1962,'' said Lauderdale in a call from his home outside Portland, Oregon.
"That would be the band - with songs in 25 different languages in styles that range from jazz to classical,'' he said of the semi-orchestra that plays the Masonic Auditorium on Wednesday, March 8. "It's a rollicking kind of adventure around the world.''
Whatever you want to call it, Pink Martini is not your typical music group.
It was founded in 1994 by Harvard grad Lauderdale, a pianist and political junkie who back then had (and has) political aspirations of his own. He was going to rallies and such in Portland - he had notions of a run for mayor - and was just bored to tears by the lame music at them.
"Lame music'' is not what you'll get in a Pink Martini track. That linguistic diversity sure helps.
"Je ne pas travailler,'' off the band's album "Sympathique,'' has become a huge hit. Basically, it translates as "I don't want to work," with the added "I just want to smoke.''
The tune - and the album - became a hit in France, a surprise to Lauderdale, who still marvels that the band A) had a hit at all and B) would have made its first inroads to fame in that country.
"We collaborate with different people who speak those languages,'' Lauderdale said. "It keeps it interesting."
Every member of the band - there are 12, counting primary vocalist China Forbes, a Harvard classmate of Lauderdale's - speaks multiple languages.
Writing in those languages has its benefits, said Lauderdale, who said the band's catalog is about 50-50 between covers and original tunes.
"When you're writing a song in French, there's nothing to lose, so you can be a little more reckless,'' he said.
"When one is writing in a different language, I find I'm not as self-conscious,'' he said. "In English, I'm very aware of the language.''
Using multiple languages isn't the band's only trademark - there's that whole varied instrumental thing, with upright bass, trombone, trumpet, violin, harp, multiple percussion instruments and, of course, piano.
"It just makes the whole feeling seem a little more symphonic or orchestral in a way, and classical in that sense,'' said Lauderdale. "I like the romantic sound of the harp and strings, and I like the fullness of having a percussion with four people as opposed to one drummer.
"If we were just a band of four, we would have broken up a long time ago,'' he said. With a band of 12, while you may not be getting along with one person at any given time, there's always someone to hang with, he said.
Lauderdale said the band's status as an independent group - with no "suits'' pushing them this way or that - has been a factor both in Pink Martini's longevity and its diversity.
"When we were working on that first album, nobody would have ever signed us,'' he said. "But after the first record did well, record companies called up and inquired, but I always felt that nobody would take care of the music the way I would.''
Even so, he is still holding that possible political career as a hole card, even though he's not quite certain he'll ever play it.
"In my head, I would like to [run for office], because I would like to show a more dignified path through this chaos.
"The general public has this unreasonable expectation: They don't want to pay taxes, but they expect roads and schools and everything,'' he said.
Nor does he let the newspaper industry off scot-free.
He watched his hometown paper, the Oregonian, "go from a huge, glorious Pulitzer Prize-winning paper to almost a church bulletin,'' Lauderdale said. He lamented the loss of "the intelligence, the writing, the critique, the discussion."
He conceded that all that makes it "hard to be hopeful'' today, but observed that the very things that have hurt the Oregonian and the media in general mean "there is an opportunity to inspire and do something.''
Lauderdale and his band are doing their bit - "Hopefully, every performance ends in a gigantic conga line!''
It's what happens when you partake of enough Pink Martini.Pink Martini
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 8.
Where: Masonic Auditorium, 3615 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
Tickets: $45 to $70, plus fees, at the box office, online at clevelandmasonicauditorium.com or ticketfly.com or by phone at 216-881-6350.
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