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NPR's Ari Shapiro, once a fan and now an occasional band member, will perform with Pink Martini

Woman in purple dress and man in suit face each other and sing into microphones
Pink Martini
Pink Martini featuring China Forbes and NPR's Ari Shapiro will perform Tuesday at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

Pink Martini, the self- described "little orchestra" also refers to themselves as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” meets “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” They're performing in St. Petersburg on Jan. 18.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. An occasional singer, Shapiro also makes frequent guest appearances with the "little orchestra" Pink Martini, whose recent albums feature several of his contributions.

This week, Shapiro briefly leaves the host chair to perform a couple of Florida dates with the band, including at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Jan. 18.

WUSF’s Cathy Carter recently spoke with Shapiro about his musical side gig.

Ari, you grew up in Portland, Oregon, in the 1990s and at the time, there was a local band that you and your friends went out to see every chance you got.

You're taking me back to my childhood. Pink Martini was like, this little favorite Portland band that had never released an album and they played in little bars, clubs, college campuses, and I would go see them anywhere I could. And over the years, I became friends with them. And when I became a journalist living in Washington, D.C., I would have them over to my house when they would perform in town. This is years later, of course, and then eventually — one of those barbecues, cookouts, late night gatherings — became a sing-along around my piano and the next day Thomas Lauderdale Pink Martini’s bandleader asked if I would record a song on the band's forthcoming album — and that was like 2008, 2009. I've been performing and recording and touring with them ever since. Which still even all these years later feels like some kind of surreal, wonderful childhood fantasy come true.

I know occasionally, an All Things Considered listener who also knows about your involvement with Pink Martini might ask you to break out into song. But I can't imagine the reverse is true, that a Pink Martini fan would ask you to say, recall your recent conversation with the UN Secretary General?

Ha ha! No, I believe in the separation of church and state. That’s the way that I put it. I mean, every now and then there has been a slight overlap, which is sort of like, I don't know, when I was a kid, there would be those cartoon shows you would watch and every now and then a character from the Jetsons would show up in the Flintstones or something like that. But for the most part, what I love about it is that they use such different parts of my brain and such different skill sets. And of course, they both involve connecting with an audience. They both involve storytelling, but they are such different experiences. For me, it's that contrast of going on tour with Pink Martini that gives me new energy to come back and host All Things Considered. And after I've been hosting All Things Considered for a while, the feeling of being on tour with Pink Martini is like this fresh, new, exciting experience, even having done it for many years.

That being said, with the separation of the two jobs, is there any way that performing informs your work with All Things Considered?

I think it's all about connecting with people. And of course, we connect with people differently onstage in a room with an audience in real time than we do over the radio, where I don't have immediate access to the people who are listening to All Things Considered. And listening to the radio is a very solitary experience, while attending a Pink Martini show is a very communal experience. But fundamentally, the goal when things go as well as they could possibly go, is that somebody comes out of that experience seeing the world a little bit differently, relating to the people around them a little bit differently. And that I think is true, whether I am reporting from the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, or singing an Arabic song in Florida.

Featuring a dozen musicians with songs in 25 languages, Pink Martini performs its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras across the world.
Pink Martini
Featuring a dozen musicians with songs in 25 languages, Pink Martini performs its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras across the world.

Of course, so much of the live performing arts was shuttered due to COVID. And now bands like Pink Martini are getting back on the road after two years. What is it like getting back on stage and playing for people again?

Of course I did miss it terribly, but also given the sacrifices that people made and the burden that people carried, that experience of not touring paled in comparison to what people who I was interviewing every day, were going through. I mean, I had the luxury of being able to host All Things Considered from home, which I'm still doing. All of that said, to be back on stage with these friends who I've missed so much and to see audiences in the room rather than stare into a little Zoom screen and record with an earbud in my ear, which we did for a few virtual performances, is such a pleasure. And I've really respected so much the way audiences are caring for themselves and each other, showing up with their masks, staying home if they have symptoms, and doing what we all have to do collectively to make sure that we can keep these performances going and keep these tours going. It's been so reassuring and so gratifying to have these experiences and see how important it is to everyone.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.