Pink Martini Serves Up Musical Variety in Fresno

Mar 29, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Music, Steven Sanchez

by Steven Sanchez

Rei Hotoda

On Saturday, March 11, at the William Saroyan Theatre, Pink Martini, the band that is a performing jukebox of multiple genres, entertained a Central Valley crowd in a collaboration with the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra. All those musicians on one stage playing a plethora of different musical styles was unique to witness. The orchestra was conducted with preciseness and gravitas by Rei Hotoda. It was a United Nations of musical numbers that were presented ranging from different cultures, years, and languages.

China Forbes

Pink Martini has been jazzin’ and jivin’ since 1994 as they’ve played a fusion of different tastes ranging from classical, Latin, traditional pop, and jazz. The band was the brain child of pianist Thomas Lauderdale, who was involved in politics in the early 90s and wanted “to provide more beautiful and inclusive musical soundtracks for political fundraisers supporting causes such as civil rights, affordable housing, the environment, libraries, public broadcasting, education, and parks.” Thus, Pink Martini was born. A year later he called a colleague from his days at Harvard University, China Forbes, a singer, to join the band, and the rest is history.

The horn section

Featuring more than a dozen musicians, they’ve graced just about every prestigious venue across the globe ranging from Walt Disney Concert Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and the Governor’s Ball at the 80th Annual Academy Awards just to name a few. They’ve collaborated with fifty orchestras internationally, including Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Pops, National Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, and the BBC Concert Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Their songs have been utilized on the big screen with films like In the Cut, Nurse Betty, Josie and the Pussycats,Tortilla Soup, Hitch, Shanghai Kiss, Mary and Max, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Including the small screen with titles like Dead Like Me, The Sopranos, The West Wing, Castle, Sherlock, Parks and
Recreation, Better Call Saul
, and Scream Queens. In their twentieth year of existence, the band was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame and the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and are still going strong.

Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra

Now, you can add the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra to that list now. Rei Hotoda, who’s serving her sixth season as the Music Director of the Fresno Philharmonic and will continue to serve through 2025 masterfully conducted the multi-piece assortment of instrumentalists. She stood in the middle of the stage, as a bridge between these two distinct groups, and she waved that baton around with such grace and authority that there’s no question she has received the accolades she has. She’s been a guest conductor with ensembles like the Symphony Orchestras of Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Detroit, Toronto, Winnipeg, Louisville, Hawaii, and Utah as well as the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, among others. She commanded the stage by masterminding this blend of cross-cultural genres and with her pedigree and musical IQ it added to the prestige of the show.

As if the band and orchestra wasn’t enough they included regular guest singer Edna Vazquez, and featuring regular guest singer Jimmie Herrod, a finalist on 2021’s season of NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Everyone got their moment under the spotlight.

China Forbes with the horn section in the background

The song list was assorted like a bar menu list. Each song title was under a foreign name. Even though Thomas would introduce the songs, where they come from and what inspired the band to play those distinct songs. I didn’t understand their translation or what the songs were saying or what they were about. And to be honest I preferred it that way. I felt like the Morgan Freeman character, Red, from the film Shawshank Redemption in the famous scene where the character Andy Dufresne (portrayed by Tim Robbins) plays operatic music over the sound system where all the prisoners stare up at the speakers while quiet and enthralled by the music. Red’s narration said that he didn’t know what the two female Italian singers were singing about, he doesn’t want to know, and sometimes it’s best left unsaid. The same can be said when I saw the audience being entranced by each song. With China Forbes switching languages and tones for each song, and each singer bringing their own flavor to the set, and seeing the crowd’s response made me realize that music isn’t per se about understanding, but it’s about feeling, and Pink Martini did just that.

Person who formed the band Thomas Lauderdale

With titles like “Bolero,” “Amado Mio,” “Je ne Veux pas Travailler,” “U Plavu Zoru,” “Ich dich Liebe, Destino,” “Sola Soy,” “Una Notte a Napoli,” “Exodus,” “Ov Sirun Sirun,” “Donde Estas, Yolanda?,” “Askim Bahardi,” to name a few, all cultures were represented for everyone to enjoy.

The night was a concoction of duets and smorgasbord of instruments in unison to provide an appetizing music experience. Everyone that could fit on that Saroyan stage deserves their own ovation, but China Forbes is a singing force. Her style and pitch was very reminiscent of classic jazz legends from back in the day, and even though I may never see those legends in person, Forbes is the next best thing in that pool of eclectic songstresses where she is carrying that legacy very well into this contemporary age.

Vocalist and percussionist Timothy Nishimoto

By far, it was one of the most unique and well-crafted musical experiences I got to witness. The band for sure set the standard for all the live jazz acts that do decide to come to the Central Valley. The attendance and response to them shows that this area would like to see more of that kind of music. Pink Martini’s presence here was very much like a sweet beverage, in bartending terminology, it was like a mixer, a combination of all these great tastes that tasted great together.

Steven Sanchez is a film graduate of UNLV. He’s a filmmaker, writer, photographer, and music manager. Obsessed with movies, comic books, and rock ‘n’ roll. A football fanatic, big fan of the Oakland Raiders. Enjoys reading and collecting vinyl records. If there’s a rock show in town more than likely he’ll be there. Loves his grandma’s home cooked meals. He has a twin sister and most people call him the pretty one. You can learn more about Steven on his YouTube channel and on Instagram @stevensanchez5807 photos and videos.

1 Comment

  1. We saw the performance and were completely enthralled. The act brought fun, passion and an interactive experience. Loved it! They were also featured on the CBS Sunday Morning show a few weeks ago. ?


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