Buckrail chats with jazz legend turned sculptor Herb Alpert, mixed media exhibition in Jackson

August 22, 2018

Buckrail chats with jazz legend turned sculptor Herb Alpert, mixed media exhibition in Jackson

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Buckrail chatted recently with jazz legend and A&M Records cofounder Herb Alpert as the iconic trumpeter plans a trip to Jackson Hole to show off his medley and muse this week.

Herb Alpert poses in front of his Black Spirit Totems series. (Gerry Wersh)

Heather James Fine Art is hosting the multiple events encompassing  Alpert’s first-ever appearance in Jackson Hole. “Herb Alpert: A Visual Melody” will include a cocktail party and reception to celebrate Alpert’s mixed media exhibition (the jazz great now sculpts and paints in addition to still playing trumpet every day) and a live concert the following evening.

Alpert’s works on display at Heather James Art will include his much-acclaimed Black Spirit Totemsseries. These massive sculptures reach an awe-inspiring 17 feet in height. LA Times referred to the pieces as “free-flowing gestures filled with unexpected curves and twists, much like Alpert’s music.” Alpert’s collection will be on view from August 1 to September 30 in Jackson Hole, and from October 6 to November 10 in New York.

The reception will take place August 21 from 5-8pm at the Heather James Fine Art in Jackson (172 Center St, Suite 101). The free concert is August 22 at 8pm at Center for the Arts.

Alpert On Art

Buckrail: The state of the music industry today is much different than the one you were involved in when you co-founded A&M Records in the 1960s. You needed an A&R man to discover you, a record label to record, distribute and promote you. Today, you need an Internet connection.

Herb: It has changed dramatically since the day we started A&M Records. There were a lot of record companies just operating out of the trunks of their cars at that time.

Buckrail: One big change is albums versus singles. Today’s digital download music world is less reliant on so-called ‘album releases’ though it is still done, but what is fast-disappearing is album cover artwork. Some iconic albums sold millions based on the cover alone. And in your case, Whipped Cream, and that girl covered in whipped cream, I mean, that is in the Top 10 of album artwork legends.

Herb Alpert’s racy album cover in 1965 was the reason for more than a few album sales to teenagers, but the music inside backed it up. (A&M Records)

Herb: Covers used to play a major part in the promotion of a record.

Our album, well, I didn’t like the picture when I saw it. I was in the studio recording Whipped Cream. I didn’t feel like it represented what I had in terms of the music. I had to be talked into it. I actually thought it was a little too racy at that time. It was 1965.

I’m glad I was talked into. Wherever I go people are always asking about it. I always tell the same story it wasn’t whipped cream it was shaving cream, and the girl (Dolores Erickson, 29 years old at the time) was three months pregnant.

Buckrail: You’ve been quoted as saying the discovery of the trumpet as an instrument when you were a school kid was key because, as an introvert, it gave you a voice you were able to express otherwise. Same goes for your latest passion, sculpting and painting?

Herb: I’m an introvert. As a kid I was a severe introvert. When the horn was making noise, it was talking for me.

Bringing it up to date, I never thought of that way but it is a possibility. I’m a right brain kind of guy. I’m 85% on the right side of my head. I wake up every morning, blow the horn, do a little sculpting, paint. I don’t force my art but if I feel up to I try to be as authentic as possible in everything I do. Art been a darn good friend to me my entire life.

Buckrail: You received a great piece of advice from R&B legend Sam Cooke. He told you the objective for an artist should not be connecting the audience to the work—the song, the sculpture, the painting—but it’s about the artist making a direct connection of him or herself to the viewer or listener. Is that something you do with your music and art?

Herb Alpert’s Black Horizon (Gerry Wersh)

Herb: I’m not doing this for anybody else. I’m doing it whether someone were to respond to my work or not I would still be doing this. It’s, like, out of my control. I love to paint, I love to sculpt, and I’m crazy about playing the horn [blows a little ditty]. I’m doing it all the time. It’s part of me.

That’s why, through the Herb Alpert Foundation, I want kids to have a creative experience at a really early age. We’ve carved out a lot of these art programs, creative programs in our public schools and even some private schools and I think it’s an important ingredient.

It’s not necessary for them to play a trumpet, but they can write poetry, and sculpt, and paint, and act; do whatever they can to get their creativity out.

Buckrail: As an artist you are often quoted as saying how important it is to be authentic and honest in your work. That’s ultimately what shines through and makes a connection for any artist, isn’t it?

Herb: I’m seduced by the mystery of art. All the arts. It’s hard to identify why you like a Miles Davis solo for instance. The beautiful part of the whole music seen is there’s only 12 notes. We’re all playing the same 12 notes. Mozart had those notes. Beethoven had those notes. Thelonius Monk had those notes.

In a general sense I think all art is a mystery. I don’t think you can put your finger on why you like a particular painting. Or why a sculpture might move you. Or some particular actor you can’t take your eyes off of. What is that element? That’s the element that makes it so seductive. It’s the thing you can’t live without. Art keeps this world humming.

Herb Alpert and wife Lani Hall. Hall is a gifted artist in her own right. The Grammy Award-winning vocalist is also a published author. (Dewey Nicks)

Buckrail: Ever been to Jackson Hole?

Herb: No. It’s been on my bucket list to tell you the truth. I’m excited to be there and looking forward to doing the concert.

We’ve been doing concerts all over the country for the last 12 years with the same group. They are personal friends of ours and they are extraordinary musicians. We have a great time. I try to make positive music. I can play the blues and some inside stuff, but I like the feeling of making music that elevates people.