Ari Shapiro brings songs, stories to town
Ari Shapiro's journalism career has taken him all over the world.
His "side project" of singing usually brings him home to perform with Pink Martini.
He meshes both aspects of his life in the new solo show "Homeward," Nov. 16-18 at the World Trade Center. Sans Pink Martini, he'll sing and tell stories of his journalism travels with National Public Radio, singing many songs in native tongues to tell such stories as that of Syrian refugees and protesting Ukrainians.
Shapiro, 39, performed the show in Washington, D.C., where he lives and works as one of the current hosts of NPR's "All Things Considered," and at legendary Joe's Pub in New York City. His hometown area — he graduated from Beaverton High School in 1996 — and where family and friends live seemed like the next logical place to put on his show; he'll also perform in Eugene on Nov. 14.
He's unabashedly still close to Portland.
"I'm lucky that I get to come back and see my parents and be with Pink Martini," he says. "It's still a city that I love."
Shapiro has performed with Pink Martini for about 10 years, performing in such places as the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, L'Olympia in Paris and Mount Lycabettus in Athens. Which means that he also has drawn close to the group's other singers, China Forbes and Storm Large, who'll join Shapiro on stage for some duet numbers in Portland next week.
"There won't be any Pink Martini songs. It's completely separate from what I do with Pink Martini, a one-man show that I created," he says. "There's an ensemble of six musicians and it resembles a cabaret in form."
Stories from journalism are woven into songs from Iraq, Turkey, Ukraine, Syria and other places. He had language coaches teach him lyrics. Learning other languages comes easy to Shapiro, who performs similar songs for Pink Martini.
"I'm accustomed to learning song lyrics in something that I don't speak," he says.
Being on assignment or hosting "All Things Considered" immerses Shapiro in hard news almost daily. It's a nice "side project" or "hobby" to sing.
"I love doing it," he says. "It's not something I can do full time. I use vacation days to tour with Pink Martini. The band is kind enough to let me parachute in when I want to. I never imagined being able to do it this long. ... I like staying busy, it keeps me engaged and never gets boring."
He has performed with Forbes and Large before, as part of Pink Martini.
"They're both gorgeous and generous and effusive performers who teach me to be a better singer," Shapiro says.
Shapiro, who was born in Fargo, N.D., quickly learned how to be a good journalist after his days at Beaverton High. He went to Yale and then earned an internship at NPR under legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. He hasn't looked back.
As his NPR biography reads, he has reported from above the Arctic Circle and aboard Air Force One (as White House correspondent during the Obama administration), covered conflicts in Iraq, Ukraine and Israel, and filed stories from five continents ("Sorry, Australia"). He was NPR justice correspondent for five years during the George W. Bush administration; he served as NPR's international correspondent based in London. In 2015, he joined Kelly McEvers, Audie Cornish and Robert Siegel as a weekday co-host of "All Things Considered," an afternoon newsmagazine.
But he still gets out into the field to report, recently visiting Indonesia for a story.
Shapiro has received many journalism awards. He has never felt compelled to move on from NPR, mostly because he has been able to work in different jobs.
"I learn about new things and connect with an audience that appreciates journalism, storytelling and radio," he says. "I've never done the same thing for five years or so. I change jobs pretty regularly. I stay at NPR because I love doing the work, and it's a place that I feel that I can pursue interests and explore curiosities and have an audience that appreciates what I do. I've had opportunities to do journalism elsewhere."
There's a lot going on in the United States and the world these days, especially in the past year with the election and administration of President Donald Trump.
"I was White House correspondent during the Obama administration, and there'd be a story that we chewed over for a few days or a week," Shapiro says. "These days it's getting eclipsed the next day by a story just as big. It's not just the news cycle being accelerated, but there are stories happening on any given day that challenge us every day."
And there's a lot going on in Portland.
"It has changed a lot in the past 20 years," Shapiro says. "When I lived in Portland, it might not have been aware of how cool it was as a city. These days, it feels a little more aware, self-aware. It has lost some grittiness, and there are good and bad things about that. As much as it has changed since I lived there, it remains my favorite city in the country."
Accompanied by a band and music director Gabriel Mangiante, Ari Shapiro performs "Homeward" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Nov. 16-17, and 7 and 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, at the World Trade Center No. 2, 121 S.W. Salmon St. Tickets are $60, and available at www.brownpapertickets.com. For more on "Homeward," see its page on Facebook.