Vocalist China Forbes back to front hip Pink Martini for return Ann Arbor Summer Festival show
When the Portland, Ore.-based group returns to Ann Arbor Tuesday night at the Power Center, Forbes will be back as lead singer, performing the eclectic group’s multi-lingual repertoire.
“I’m feeling great,” Forbes reported. “It’s been two years since I had my vocal cord surgery and it went as well as it could have ever gone. I’m really glad I made the decision to do it because to not do it meant that I would risk hemorrhaging over and over and over again and risk having scar tissue on my vocal cords. So I took the chance and got the surgical procedure and now it’s as if I have brand new vocal cords. They’re pristine.”
As it turns out, Forbes’ appearance in Ann Arbor is something of a lucky break for us. Since her surgery, she only performs part-time with the band—Forbes and singer Storm Large now alternate as Pink Martini vocalists.
“I have a 4-year-old son, it was too much touring for me,” she explained. “(When I was off) it was the first time I realized I could miss a show and the show would still go on. Now, the pressure I felt is gone and it makes a huge difference. When I came back, I came back with a very different attitude about touring and singing and being in a band.”Influenced by Latin music, jazz, cabaret, cinema scores and more, the retro-pop ensemble brings melodies and rhythms from different parts of the world together to create an eclectic, modern sound.
Other than a retrospective album, it’s been a few years since the group has released a new recording, a situation that will be remedied this year with “Get Happy,” coming out in September. Forbes said the disc will feature many different singers, including herself, Storm Large, NPR’s Ari Shapiro, Rufus Wainwright and the late comedienne and actress Phyllis Diller.
“She does a very beautiful version of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’ - she does it her own way,” Forbes said of Diller’s contribution.
The group was founded in 1994 by Thomas Lauderdale, a Harvard graduate and classically-trained pianist, to play political fundraisers for progressive causes. He remembered vocalist Forbes from their Harvard days and convinced her to set aside her own singer-songwriter career join the band. They eventually began to write music and lyrics together and their first song, the bouncy "Sympathique" - with the chorus “Je ne veux pas travailler”(”I don’t want to work”) - became a huge hit in France.
The album "Sympathique" was released in 1997, "Hang On Little Tomato" came out in 2004, "Hey Eugene!" followed in 2007 and "Splendor In The Grass" in 2009.
A recent Pink Martini side project involved working with Japanese vocalist Saori Yuki, and Forbes said the Ann Arbor show will probably include her rendition of “Mayonaka no Bossa Nova (Midnight Bossa Nova),” performed with the group’s Timothy Nishimoto.
For the Power Center show, Forbes may spot a few familiar faces in the crowd. Her aunt and uncle (John Woodford, former executive editor of the U-M alumni publication “Michigan Today”) live in town, and Forbes said she spent two weeks in Ann Arbor when she was 10 going to school with her cousin.
This is Pink Martini’s fourth Ann Arbor Summer Festival appearance.
“For our 30th season, we wanted to bring back some of the festival's most popular artists, and so that definitely meant a return engagement with Pink Martini,” said Robb Woulfe, Ann Arbor Summer Festival executive director.
“Ann Arbor just loves this band and they always draw a diverse audience, from jazz and classical aficionados to hipsters,” he added.