Thomas Lauderdale doesn’t mince emotions when he talks about Tucson’s Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School.
He loves them.
So it was a no brainer whom he and his Pink Martini “little orchestra” would invite to open for them at Centennial Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
“They are my favorites of any of our collaborations with young people,” Lauderdale said last week in a phone interview from home in Portland, Oregon. “They are authentic and earnest. They are fantastic.”
Pink Martini was first introduced to Mariachi Aztlán when the ensemble joined them on stage at Centennial Hall in January 2016 on the recommendation of Curtis McCrary, general manager of the Rialto Theatre. The Rialto presented the 2016 show and is presenting Tuesday’s concert.
“They loved us,” said Mariachi Aztlán music director John Contreras, a sentiment backed up by Lauderdale who last week said the group “totally blew us away.”
Within several days of that 2016 Tucson show, Pink Martini whisked the students off to Palm Beach, California, for a back-to-back pair of sold-out concerts. Months later, the group was back in Los Angeles joining Pink Martini for the group’s New Year’s Eve concert at Disney Hall.
Contreras, who has led Mariachi Aztlán for 16 years, said the group joined guest vocalist Rita Moreno on “America” from “West Side Story.”
“They are the most amazing band,” Lauderdale said.
Tuesday’s concert is Pink Martini’s first here since that one with the Pueblo mariachi. The group, which Lauderdale formed in 1994 to play mostly close to home shows in Portland, has made Tucson a regular stop since the early 2000s. In addition to Centennial Hall, the group has performed at Fox Tucson Theatre, the Rialto and with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall.
“I love Tucson,” Lauderdale said, naming University of Arizona Fred Fox School of Music piano prof John Milbauer among his handful of Tucson friends. “I really like Tucson. I didn’t really realize that I would like Arizona so much and particularly Tucson.”
Lauderdale’s 10-piece band comes here after a whirlwind summer that saw it zigzag across the globe, starting at Red Rocks in Colorado, shooting through Canada and up to Martha’s Vineyard in New England, then off to Beirut, Lebanon, as well as Hungary and Spain and over to a couple outdoor festivals in France and Switzerland before circling back and ending up in Idaho.
“I never even imagined I would tour with the band outside of Portland,” Lauderdale said, reflecting on his busy summer. “It seemed from the beginning to be sort of unwieldy. It wasn’t even on the radar as a possibility.”
In addition to its diverse catalogue, Pink Martini’s appeal lies largely in its ability to transcend cultural and language barriers through its music. With rotating lead vocals from founding member China Forbes and Storm Large, they sing in 25 languages — we can expect to hear at least 10 of them on Tuesday night — and borrow from jazz, blues, classical and pop.
Lauderdale said the set list on Tuesday will pull from the band’s dozen albums including its 2016 record “Je Dis Oui!” which includes six songs co-written by Lauderdale. The album also includes covers of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” alongside traditional folk tunes sung in English, French, Farsi, Armenian, Portuguese, Arabic and Turkish, and a turn at Franz Schubert’s “Serenade.”
On Tuesday, the group and Mariachi Aztlán will perform “¿Dónde Estás Yolanda?” a Pink Martini tune from 1997’s “Sympathique.”
Mariachi Aztlán’s Contreras said his group of student musicians are honored and tickled that Pink Martini sought them out. It’s a chance for the young musicians to share a stage and experience up close Pink Martini’s high level of musicianship.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4642. On Twitter. Ernesto Portillo Jr. contributed to this story.