Pink Martini returns to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall in a program brimming over with music from around the globe. The "little orchestra" with diverse backgrounds and solid talent is the inspiration of Portland pianist Thomas Lauderdale.

Two decades ago, he was pursuing a political career and performing as an orchestra soloist on the side when he became convinced that he could write better songs and find more exciting musicians to inspire voters than the local bands playing at the various events.

From the outset, Pink Martini took off like wildfire, entertaining for political fundraisers and heralding the environment, education, civil rights and other causes. Today, it travels the world entertaining in packed halls and gathering new fans wherever it goes.

"The Kennedy Center audience can look forward to music that will be in our new album," Lauderdale said. "One piece is Hindi from the Bollywood period, there's a Mamie Van Doren song from 1967, a Japanese pop song that's had several incarnations since 1952, some new Turkish songs, another from Romania and our first German song. This concert is the start of a tour that will take us to Mexico, France, Switzerland, the U.K. and Canada.

Pink Martini
Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F Street NW
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Info: $30 to $90; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324;

"We always get ideas for music wherever we travel from songs we hear along the way and recommendations from people we meet. Many come up after a concert eager to share. Because most of our songs come from a variety of sources, I don't deliberately sit down at the piano and compose. I'm primarily a pianist, so it's not a calling, but I occasionally write a song when I have something to say."

Pink Martini often performs with orchestras, among them the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, the BBC Concert Orchestra in London and National Symphony Orchestra with which they played two years ago.

"What I'm doing allows me to travel and create something inspirational with music that carries audiences from sadness to happiness," he said. "This is an art form everyone can relate to. The Kennedy Center audience will discover the joy of participation by joining in a conga line that dances up and down the Concert Hall aisles."