It was a warm Saturday afternoon at the Oregon Zoo Amphitheater. Dozens of people scurried about, getting ready for Pink Martini’s glamorous evening show. For a band that tours the world, this is a welcome hometown concert — a chance to perform for local fans who love them.
And for 27-year-old singer Jimmie Herrod, it was another opportunity to show his skills as Pink Martini’s latest star.
“Currently my life is pretty interesting,” Herrod said. “To have a number of things I’ve wanted happen. And like, ‘Oh my God. You can actually have things you like!’”
Jimmie began singing as a child around the house. “To the point that our neighbors would say, “It’s 9 p.m. You know? Sounds fine. But can you close the window?!” Herrod said.
After high school, he headed off to Cornish School of the Arts in Seattle. “I decided to study music because I had no clue what else to study,” Herrod said. “I thought of what I loved. Which are words and music.”
In 2013, he moved to Portland, earning a master’s degree at Portland State University and quickly landing a position there as an adjunct professor in jazz studies.
Herrod performs regularly, singing in dozens of groups around town. But just last year he got the call from Pink Martini director Thomas Lauderdale.
“Jimmie came down to the loft,” Lauderdale said, “and, and it was like, whoa, what an incredible presence, what an incredible voice. It just sort of soars. It’s transcendent. It’s smooth. It’s just — it’s otherworldly. And so shortly thereafter he made his debut with us in Los Angeles and then San Francisco, and he’s been singing with us ever since.”
And for the Oregon Zoo concert, Jimmie joins an all-star cast: China Forbes, Storm Large, Edna Vazquez and special guests Ari Shapiro and former Miss America Katie Harman Ebner.
“I’ve always loved variety shows,” Lauderdale said, “from ‘The Muppets’ to Lawrence Welk to Donnie and Marie … a lot of different things happening on one stage. And then to bring Jimmie on, it takes it over the top!”
As night falls and the show headed toward its big finish, Herrod begins the dramatic first notes of “Exodus,” the over-the-top theme from Otto Preminger’s 1960 film.
“When he takes the stage,” Lauderdales said, “people are just sort of stopped dead in their tracks.”
And it’s true at this show, too. The Oregon Zoo crowd grew silent as Jimmie wound his way through the complex and incredibly challenging notes of this intricate song. As he hit his final big note, it’s not just the audience that rise to their feet — his fellow performers on stage jumped up to cheer their co-star. Jimmie Herrod clearly belonged right there, center stage, with his family of musicians.
For Lauderdale, Jimmie’s presence on stage is a welcome addition. “It’s so exciting to be in the presence of that kind of energy and talent and love and joy,” he said. “To be reminded of the joy of being alive.”