The musician Thomas Lauderdale built a successful career. Yet he's still taking piano lessons.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: That classical music heard here on an old recording grew into a song of Lauderdale's own. The way it did tells you something about the creative process of Lauderdale's band, The Pink Martini. Lauderdale and his colleagues assembled a song the way that you might make a collage.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: In fact, that classical composition became a pair of songs on their new album "Splendor in the Grass." The process begins with Lauderdale, his producer, and a chance encounter with some sheet music.

Mr. THOMAS LAUDERDALE (Musician): The Schubert was lying out on my piano and somehow we were sort of like singing along with the melody and just the phrase and then you're gone kind of popped in. And that's how it all sort of unfolded. Just from that. From the Schubert and from the phrase - and then you're gone.

INSKEEP: So they had a melody. They had a refrain. And they made this.

(Soundbite of song, "And Then You're Gone")

Ms. CHINA FORBES (Singer): (Singing) My dear Lorenzo, you take my hand and understand the tears that I have cried. We light the candles and pour the wine and laugh as if you'll never leave my side. You take me in your arms and tell me that I'll always be the only one. And then you're gone.

INSKEEP: The Pink Martini is the creation of Lauderdale and China Forbes the singer we're hearing now. They became famous mixing different styles of music. Plenty of people do that, of course, but Pink Martini seems to do it with one eyebrow raised. So you're never quite sure if they're joking.

(Soundbite of song, "And Then You're Gone")

Ms. FORBES: (Singing) You come to seek me on a Saturday presenting peonies knowing just what to say.

INSKEEP: What's happening in that song?

Mr. LAUDERDALE: Well, it takes the theme from "Fantasy for Piano for Four Hands" by Franz Schubert in F Minor and then suddenly it becomes - a Latin beat sort of kicks in and it becomes somewhere between "I Will Survive," Shirley Bassey and Schubert, and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAUDERDALE: …the tango.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FORBES: It's a cupcake.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: The idea was just sort of slight, you know, it's sort of a I'm not going to take it anymore kind of song, the opposite of that Shirley Bassey song "I Who Have Nothing." This is sort of like I've got a lot and get lost.

INSKEEP: Did you start with a different kind of song than you finished with?

Ms. FORBES: Yes. Oh, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAUDERDALE: Yeah, I mean I, you know…

Ms. FORBES: It was long and repetitive. We cut it down.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: You know, the day that I tried to - we introduced this song to the band, they were not - nobody was happy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FORBES: It's a process, Steve.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: And so we were sort of forlorn and ran away, and we started thinking about what if we did it to a swing beat. And suddenly we had not one but two songs. So you know, if you think this is repetitive, try this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Well, let's play a little bit of the second song where we hear from the love interest who's walked out on you, China Forbes, walked out on you.

Ms. FORBES: Okay, alright.

INSKEEP: But has come back briefly, and I should mention for our listeners, this is an NPR correspondent who will be very familiar to some of our listeners. And just listen a little bit and see if you can figure out who it is.

(Soundbite of song, "But Now I'm Back")

ARI SHAPIRO: (Singing) (Unintelligible) Maria, I'm here to see ya, won't you please, please open the door. I brought you flowers, been waitin' hours, can't stand it any more. So here's what happened, when you were nappin', I just ran out for snacks. I was feeling famished and I vanished but now I'm back.

INSKEEP: Pink Martini from their new recording - the second of a pairing of songs, the first from a woman singing about a man who's gone, the second a man announcing that he's back. And I told you that voice was an NPR correspondent. That correspondent is with us now, and sir, would you please give us your NPR out cue.

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Justice correspondent and frequent guest host here on MORNING EDITION. How on earth did you end up on this recording?

SHAPIRO: I'm still trying to figure that one out.

INSKEEP: These guys are old friends. We should say that, you've known each other…

Mr. LAUDERDALE: We both grew up in Portland.

SHAPIRO: Yes. So we've known each other for years. And in June the band came to Washington D.C. for a show, and I threw a dinner party for them and a bunch of D.C. friends and some other Portland folks. The party turned into somehow a singalong in the upstairs of my house around the piano. And the next day sitting at my desk at NPR, Thomas calls me and he says will you do a song on the next album?

And I say this with love. Thomas tends to come up with sort of cockamamie harebrained ideas that could never actually take place but somehow he manages to actually make happen.

Ms. FORBES: Typical Pink Martini.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: Is it really?

Ms. FORBES: Kind of, sometimes.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: Sometimes we could be really by, you know, by the seat of our pants, which is kind of, you know, makes it exciting.

Ms. FORBES: That's how your pants get so many holes.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: Keeps them on their toes.

SHAPIRO: Come on, this is morning radio.

Ms. FORBES: I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of song, "And Then You're Gone")

Ms. FORBES: (Singing) You think I miss you each time you disappear maybe I used to but its becoming clear, I know your tricks, I've heard your song, declare your love and then you're gone.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: I'm not really a songwriter. China's more really of a songwriter than I am. My urge is to just practice Schubert and try to become better.

INSKEEP: I wonder, Mr. Lauderdale, if the word for you would be less a songwriter than a composer. And I mean that in a slightly different way than people would talk about a composer of music. You seem to compose instruments, compose people, pull different thoughts and ideas together that you get different places and you rearrange them in new ways.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: Or maybe like a ring master.

Ms. FORBES: We're in a circus.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: I guess so.

Ms. FORBES: I don't want to be in a circus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Or the ringleader would be more like, you know…

Ms. FORBES: I like composer. I think you're right. You know, composition in a painting, composition - it's like a tableau and Thomas is actually moving the figurines around and rearranging…

Mr. LAUDERDALE: Isn't that just called a set decorator?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FORBES: Interior designer.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: Interior designer.

Ms. FORBES: You're all of it - pastry chef.

Mr. LAUDERDALE: I can do all of it.

(Soundbite of song, "And Then You're Gone")

Ms. FORBES: (Singing) Now just be gone.

INSKEEP: Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes lead Pink Martini, whose new album is "Splendor in the Grass." It features a guest appearance by NPR's Ari Shapiro and includes two songs inspired by a classical composition by Franz Schubert and you can hear both those songs at

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