Herb Alpert wants it known that his new instrumental version of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” and its video — premiering exclusively below — is “not a commercial venture,” nor is it intended as political commentary. But the times have moved Alpert to make a musical statement.
“I’m not a politician, but there’s a lot of things going on I’d like to respond to,” Alpert tells Billboard. “I wouldn’t in my wildest dreams think of covering such an iconic record, but I’ve always been taken by what Louis said, and there’s a lot of things going on I’d like to respond to. It’s a simple statement. It’s a true statement. It’s apolitical, and I’m sure a lot of people believe it. So I’m just trying to put some feelings out there I think deserve to be out there.”
Proceeds from Alpert’s “What A Wonderful World” will be going to the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation. His treatment of the song, meanwhile, takes a more upbeat, world music approach, blending Alpert’s trumpet with a variety of international instruments including the Chinese erhu, the Turkish Oud, the Japanese shakuhachi, the Armenian duduk and the steel pan from Trinidad.
“I wanted to get instruments from different parts of the world — it’s a subtle thing, but it just feels real,” Alpert explains. “I wasn’t trying to do anything Louis had already done. Certainly nobody needs another recording of that song, but it’s a nice catalyst for the message we’re trying to impart on people.” The video also includes Armstrong saying, “Love baby. Love. That’s the secret,” and exhortations for viewers to “Be kind,” “Be honest,” “Help the less fortunate” and more.
And though he’s a self-described “bleeding liberal,” Alpert took great pains to avoid any political sloganeering; He even made sure the word “Vote” wasn’t colored blue when it was drawn into the video.
“Yeah, I was real careful about that,” Alpert says. “This is an answer to young people saying, ‘What do you mean it’s a wonderful world? How about all those wars all over the place? How about hunger and pollution? You call that wonderful?’ Well, it’s not the world that’s so bad, it’s what we’re doing to it. What a wonderful world it would be if only we would give it a chance. So, not being a politician, this is the only way I could respond a little bit. If we get the right exposure and people can react to it in a positive way, it might get them excited about jumping in doing something to help make it better. I hope we can reach some people and maybe turn some heads with his.”
For Alpert the song is also a chance to salute a friend and personal musical hero. “He was a spectacular guy, really something special,” Alpert recalls. “He was genuine, he was passionate, and that came right through his instrument. I’ve met a lot of great musicians in my day. Some played the shit out of their instrument and were a drag when you met them, but this guy was a beautiful human being. It was always heartwarming to see him. I really loved him.”