AT 79, MUSIC LEGEND HERB ALPERT STILL DRIVEN BY HIS LOVE OF PLAYING
Herb Alpert is an award-winning American musician who, with his Tijuana Brass, brought us such standards as “Taste of Honey” and “The Lonely Bull,” as well as his hit single “This Guy’s In Love With You.”
On Oct. 11, the iconic trumpeter, composer arranger, philanthropist and record executive, with his recording artist wife, Lani Hall, will take the stage at Hartford’s Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, kicking off his new U.S. tour to promote his new CD “In the Mood.”
He and A&M Records partner Jerry Moss have influenced a diverse roster of well-known talent including The Carpenters, The Police, Janet Jackson and Peter Frampton. Alpert, 79, was funny and introspective, patient and personable as he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: You are 79, and with your long list of accomplishments as a musician, composer, arranger, singer, and producer, you release yet another CD. You could be doing nothing yet you take on another ambitious project with appearances to boot. Why?
A: I love to play. “In the Mood” is very personal and making the CD included working with my wife Lani Hall and nephew Randy Badazz Alpert and that made it extra special. I have been playing since I was 8 years old and doing concerts with my wife for a long time, more than the 40 years we have been married. I don’t think of myself as old. I do the music because you can make people happy. I want to share what I do and I love being on the road and I love performing before a live audience. Most good songs bring back good memories and when there is a song you like and you hear it again, it’s wonderful.
Q: So mine is “This Guy’s In Love with You” and I remember my 1968 boyfriend every time I hear it. What is that song for you?
A: ‘Sh-boom’ by The Chords. It was the first pop record I ever bought and every time I hear that song, a lot of good memories come to mind. I had a classical music background before I got corrupted by jazz. So my first record that I ever bought could have been something by Harry James.
Q: I thought it was interesting that you are also an accomplished sculptor and painter. That, along with your music and drive, so parallels another guy who has taught us well that age is just a number, Tony Bennett. Have you ever talked to each other about some kind of collaboration?
A: I’ve been sculpting and painting for over 40 years now. I think a collaboration with Tony would be fun but I wouldn’t want to impose on him.
Q: I love the covers of the Everly Brothers music on the new CD because one of those songs was the first record I ever bought, and yes, it’s a great memory every time I hear it. Why were a couple of their songs included on “In the Mood?”
A: I wanted to do something to reflect their contributions to music, especially in the wake of Phil Everly’s death earlier this year. I was a great fan of theirs and appreciated what they did in moving rock-and-roll forward as a duet choosing great songs. I always liked “Let It Be Me” so when we were choosing music for the CD, I thought why not.
Q: “In the Mood” suggests old songs that are timeless. Was that your plan, to resurrect songs we may have forgotten or perhaps were never familiar with?
A: I like to do familiar songs in a new way. I have a backlog of songs in my mind, I have been in the business so long not only as a performer but as head of A& M Records and have worked with a lot of great people. I think there is a truth in the classics, the melodies of the past music from the ’30s to the ’50s is more substantial than music today. A good song is all about a great melody and you only need a pretty good lyric. Instinctively I try to pick great melodies when I record, the ones that haunt me.
Q: What do you miss about the industry you started in decades ago and what do you love about it now?
A: I don’t miss anything. I think it just changed drastically. When I started with Jerry Moss it was a very different type of environment later. We just made music we loved to make. You took your single to a radio station program director and if he liked it, it meant you would hear it on the air. That doesn’t happen anymore. Radio stations are pigeon-holed now. It is a different world when it comes to getting exposure. It’s also a business run by monster corporations and lawyers and they look at bottom lines, and how much is a record going to make. You can’t predict that in music. When I started, we were just trying to make good records of good songs figuring there would be an audience.
Q: If you could have a jam session with any five musicians, dead or alive, who would you choose?
A: Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Billy Van. These guys were the real thing.
Q: Who are contemporary performers of today that you like to listen to?
A: I don’t listen too much. I listen to the jazz old timers, I love Miles Davis and when it comes to classical music, I love anything by Ravel.
Q: What song of yours is your favorite?
A: That’s hard to say. ‘A Taste of Honey’ with The Tijuana Brass was a big deal because when we recorded it, I felt it could be a hit. It just got under my skin and every time we played it the audience would go wild. I considered the audience the focus group on how well it was liked, even though it was actually the B side of the ‘Third Man Theme’. I called Jerry and said ‘this song is on the wrong side. He didn’t like ‘Taste of Honey’ because it stopped in the middle and you couldn’t dance to it but we turned it over to the A side and it became the real door opener for us.
Q: Your wife Lani Hall, who will be performing with you at Infinity Music Hall, is as accomplished a performer as you are. You have been married for over 40 years. What’s the secret of your success as a celebrity couple?
A: She is a fabulous person and I am crazy about her. We are very different and that is part of the charm. We communicate our feelings and if something is askew we talk about it.
Q: You are also a mentor and a philanthropist with your Herb Alpert Foundation and Alpert Awards in the Arts program. What in your life are you proudest of?
A: That I am reasonably healthy and breathing, that I am very blessed and I feel a need to recycle that to others. I try to help kids. I had an unusual chance when I was going to grammar school to have a music appreciation class. In that class we had a table with various instruments. I picked up a trumpet and that changed my life. A lot of kids aren’t getting that opportunity and creativity should be a core subject. Through that creative process you get in touch with your own uniqueness and you have a good chance of experiencing others. It might be the way to bring us altogether. Music is so powerful and I can be any place in the world and have a handful of musicians around and say ‘let’s play the blues’ and everyone knows what it means.
Q: Is an “In the Mood II” CD possible?
A: There could be. I don’t know yet.
Tickets for “An Evening With Herb Alpert & Lani Hall” concert Oct. 11 Hartford’s Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, 32 Front St., range from $69 to $89. For more information: www.infinityhall.com or call 860-560-7757.