American band Pink Martini sing in Malay, Mandarin and Japanese

His ambition was politics, but since starting Pink Martini, Thomas Lauderdale says being a rock star is more enjoyable

The founder of American band Pink Martini, Thomas Lauderdale, would want to run for mayor in his home city of Portland if he were not having so much fun being a rock star.

"Do I want to continue to travel around the world, play concerts, make people happy, get applause every night and do well financially?

"Or do I want to work under fluorescent lighting in one city, facing angry constituents, under constant threat of being defeated or not winning?" The 44-year-old band leader, who plays the piano in the group, says in a telephone interview from the Oregon city.

He would be "insane" to leave the band to go into politics at this time, he jokes.

Pink Martini's unique blend of traditional pop, jazz, classical and world music sung in a smorgasbord of languages has earned them a loyal following the world over.

They have their fair share of fans in Singapore - all tickets to their show at the 2,000-capacity Esplanade Theatre tomorrow night are sold out. The gig marks their return to Singapore after having played here for the first time at the venue's Mosaic Music Festival back in 2010.

Frequently described as a "little orchestra", Pink Martini see Lauderdale accompanied by his 10 bandmates: singer China Forbes, bass player Philip Baker, trumpet player Gavin Bondy, violinist Nicholas Crosa, percussionist Brian Davis, guitarist Daniel Faehnle, singer and percussionist Anthony Jones, English horn player Kyle Mustain, singer/ percussionist Timothy Nishimoto and trombone player Robert Taylor.

Lauderdale promises they will play one of their best-known songs - Afro-Cuban tune Let's Never Stop Falling In Love from their second album, Hang On Little Tomato.

Unlike the original album version, sung in English, their live rendition here will be sung in Malay, a nod to the version by Malaysian singer-actor Sean Ghazi, who translated the words and retitled it Ku Impikan Bintang in his 2006 album.

They will also do a Mandarin number, a cabaret classic by 1930s Chinese songbird Bai Guang - Deng Zhe Ni Hui Lai (Waiting For You To Come Back).

"I love that song and the singer, I think she's extraordinary," Lauderdale say.

The inclusion of the Chinese and Malay songs is not a gimmicky gesture for their Singapore fans.

Over the course of seven studio albums, including latest output Dream A Little Dream released last year, the band have sung in over one dozen languages, including Japanese, Croatian and Portuguese.

The task of learning how to sing in all these languages falls on their main singer, Forbes, as well as another vocalist, Storm Large, who sometimes joins them on their tours.

Lauderdale says he does not really have to do much convincing because both Forbes and Large are enthusiastic about singing in languages they are not familiar with. "We get a language expert, a professor of language for whatever language it is and they do study and get the sounds right and understand the words and meaning of it, and then we record it. It's great fun, it's like being in perennial class."

Formed in 1994, Pink Martini found success early when their first song, Sympathique, became a hit in France.

Over the years, they have done shows in almost every continent and have performed with more than 50 symphonic orchestras worldwide. Their music has been used in movies such as romantic/action flick Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) as well as television series British crime drama Sherlock.

Lauderdale says that, looking back, he never dreamt that the band would last more than two decades and still travel around the world today.

"I never imagined we would travel outside of Portland, Oregon where we live. It was never on the radar. What I wanted to do was go into politics, so I created a band that was a little bit political, the United Nations of songs.

"It never occurred to me that we would ever travel or perform outside of Oregon, let alone the country. It's a big surprise. We're so lucky."

dinohadi@sph.com.sg

Pink Martini's show at the Esplanade Theatre tomorrow is sold out.