Summer in Los Angeles isn't complete without a trip to the Hollywood Bowl. This outdoor concert venue seats just over 17,000 people and holds a variety of concerts from The Sound of Music sing-a-longs and Classical performances with the LA Philharmonic to contemporary acts like Vampire Weekend, vocalist Natalie Cole and everything in between.
One of the perennial favorites on stage at the Bowl is Pink Martini, a band that encompasses many different styles, from Latin to lounge, and they sing in English, French, Spanish, and more. This year, the 12-piece band performed for three nights in July along with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. "Tonight we have a saxophonist in the orchestra," Grammy Award-winning conductor Bramwell Tovey told the audience. "You only have a saxophone when the orchestra is letting its hair down." And sure enough, much fun ensued.
In addition to Pink Martini's own two lead singers, China Forbes and Storm Large, joining the band onstage were a variety of guest vocalists and musicians, including: singer Saori Yuki, who was described by bandleader Thomas Lauderdale as the Japanese Barbra Streisand; 95-year-old clarinetist Norman Leyden; and our personal favorite, NPR White House Correspondent Ari Shapiro. That's right, in addition to traveling around with the President (and taking beautiful photos in the process), Shiapiro can also sing. And dance.
Lauderdale introduced our guy by telling the audience that the next guest singer is a correspondent for NPR. That's all he had to say for members of the audience to start yelling "Aaaarrrriiiiii! Aaaarrrriiiiiii!"
Obviously this wasn't the first time he appeared with Pink Martini. In fact he's been singing with them for four years now, and his very first appearance was also on the Hollywood Bowl stage. Shapiro is a longtime fan of Pink Martini, which like him, comes from Portland, Oregon. But it was at a Washington, D.C. party that Shapiro threw for the band that they sealed their relationship.
"One of those parties turned into a late night singalong, and the next morning Thomas asked if I'd record a song for the band's next album," Shapiro said.
When he walked on stage, Shapiro looked out at the audience and quipped, "You all look nothing like what I imagined either."
He then launched into a musical conversation with Pink Martini's Storm Large. First she sang a song about his on-stage character, "And Then You're Gone." He followed with "But Now I'm Back" in an attempt to woo her back. After the his-and-her drama wrapped, Shapiro sang in Spanish, "Yo Te Quiero Siempre"(seriously, is there anything this guy CAN'T do?).
As a reporter covering the White House, Shapiro is no stranger to working under pressure. I tried to picture myself in his shoes - asking a tough question to the President of the United States for the first time, and walking on stage to sing in front of thousands of Angelenos for the first time. In both cases, I can only imagine I'd freeze right up. So I had to ask Shapiro which experience was more intimidating for him.
"When you're singing at the Hollywood Bowl, the spotlights mean you can't actually see anybody in the audience," he said. "That makes it a little less stressful than staring down the President for the first time."
Fear not, despite the warm welcome he received on stage, he has no plans to quit his day job and go on tour. But singing on stage does help him behind the NPR mic.
"It gives me perspective," Shapiro said. "Reminds me not to take anything too seriously."
Probably a reminder we could all use sometimes, with or without a fabulous black and gold blazer.