LAUDERDALE, MEOW MEOW BRING TOUR TO TOWN
Thomas Lauderdale has enjoyed performing alongside many people throughout the years.
But the Pink Martini founder, bandleader and pianist can't say enough fun things about his latest partner, the cabaret performer Meow Meow.
When Lauderdale and Meow Meow take the stage along with the Oregon Symphony at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Monday, April 1, fans should prepare to see something outlandish.
"It's always an unbelievable adventure," says Lauderdale, via phone while on tour with Meow Meow, aka Australian entertainer Melissa Madden Gray. "As an accompanist, one never knows where it's going to go. It's the only time I've ever seen crowd-surfing at a symphony show.
"It is gymnastics, athleticism, as well as musical, and hysterically funny. It's an amazing experience to be the support for that and not know what's coming next. It keeps me on my toes, I felt myself laughing so much throughout the year."
Lauderdale and Meow Meow just released an album, "Hotel Amour," via Heinz Records. The record features special guests Rufus Wainwright, Barry Humphries (of Dame Edna fame) and The Von Trapps, as well as a special live recording with legendary pianist and composer Michel Legrand.
"The sound will be both familiar and exotic to both my fans and those of Pink Martini — a true collaboration between two passionate artists with converging and diverging inspirations, but above all an obsession with the joy of sharing special music," Meow Meow says.
It's an eclectic album with music from the 1920s-1950s and even modern music. Adds Lauderdale: "I'm really happy with it. It's very beautiful, a very introspective side of Meow Meow. The shenanigans that happen on stage aren't really present in this album. It's exquisitely beautiful and exuberant musical elements — the voice and not the personality."
The two had developed a friendship long before the album and tour. They met several years ago, when Lauderdale was hired to be her accompanist for an act in the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art's Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival.
"We had such a great time," Lauderdale says. "She invited me to be her accompanist in a Sydney festival in Australia.
"We thought we should record a few songs, then a whole album, and it's taken a decade to put together. It came together in the last year and we decided to finally finish it and then tour around the country with it. It's great, I love these projects."
Indeed, last year he collaborated with Kathleen Saadat, a pioneering Oregon civil rights activist, on an album, "Love for Sale." Lauderdale says Saadat "has an incredible voice."
He adds, of the collaborations: "My best gift musically is I'm very good at accompanist because I listen very carefully and support the extraordinary."
Lauderdale says that he and Meow Meow took a long time to make an album, "because we love working together so much." And they plan another one.
Meow Meow is not only a cabaret and musical theater performer, she has branched off into movie acting. She's currently filming the movie "Cats" with Judi Dench, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson.
Lauderdale does have another role, and it's in Pink Martini, which plans to follow up the Lauderdale/Meow Meow tour dates with some of their own.
They're touring and also planning a new album, although Lauderdale says it's just in the planning phases. He also has a project underway involving Oregon Ballet Theatre and James Canfield, the former artistic director.
"I do have a bunch of projects that are unfinished, dangling out there," he says.
Lauderdale really enjoys collaborations, and even introducing different musicians to Pink Martini, a multi-language, multi-genre outfit that has become synonymous with Portland. It's no surprise that Lauderdale and the band basically employ three singers: China Forbes, Storm Large and Ari Shapiro. Saadat, Wainwright and fashion guru Ikram Goldman also contributed vocals on "Je dis oui!," its ninth album released in 2016.
"We've been a band for 25 years, and if we played the same set of music every night, it'd potentially be in danger of losing its edge and heart," Lauderdale says. "I remember the first time we played at Hollywood Bowl and shared the bill with Debbie Reynolds; I remember watching Debbie Reynolds, and it was the same jokes, 'Stop and wait for people to laugh.' It didn't feel good. I remember thinking, 'I never want that to be me or the band.'"
In the meantime, Lauderdale helps set the stage on fire with Meow Meow, who calls Nina Simone an idol.
"I can't wait for the concert on April 1 with the Oregon Symphony," he says.
Norman Huynh conducts the Oregon Symphony for the Thomas Lauderdale/Meow Meow "Hotel Amour" concert, 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 1, at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway. Tickets: starting at $35, www.orsymphony.org.
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