It’s been nearly four years since we last spoke
to Herb Alpert. Now in his early 80s and about to go on tour performing with his wife, Lani Hall, Alpert continues to be a dynamic—and vital—force in both the music and art world. His philanthropic efforts on behalf the arts and music education are unparalleled and distinguish him as a true humanitarian.
All About Jazz: Herb, on behalf of All About Jazz, thanks for taking time.
Herb Alpert: Thank you. Always great speaking with you, Nick.
AAJ: First off, how are you and Lani doing musically?
HA: We’re good. We’re about to go out on tour. We’re now doing about 50 performances a year.
AAJ: As a trumpet player, I have to ask you: How are your chops?
HA: Better than ever.
AAJ: Great. OK, let’s talk about the May 13 event in New York when the 25th Anniversary of the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts will take place at the Caldwell Factory. In that quarter century, there have been 125 HAIA award recipients.
HA: Yes, that’s correct. There are awards given each year in five disciplines—music, dance, theater, film/video and visual arts.
AAJ: How did this effort all start?
HA: On an idea, you know. I just had an idea that it would be nice to do something because the National Endowment for the Arts sort of closed their doors. They stopped honoring the artists.
AAJ: OK. I see. That was more of a practical reason, right? What about your personal reasons?
HA: I love jazz. You guys know I love jazz. Jazz relates to all of the art forms because it’s about freedom. It’s about expression. It’s about imagination. And truth-telling. I’ve met some of the greatest jazz artists that ever lived—some great artists, actors, et cetera over the last few years. There’s that running theme. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Democrats, Republicans or Independents. They’re all truth-tellers. You can’t be a BSer and be a great artist.
AAJ: The awards. The $75,000 awarded to the artists—is completely unrestricted. Is that correct?
HA: Yeah, they’re completely unrestricted. They can take the money and run with it. They get to go to Cal Arts and spend a week there, too. How they spend the money? That’s their choice.
AAJ: You’ve been quoted as saying that with the awards you gravitate towards artists that are risk-takers and explorers. Could you elaborate on that, please?
HA: Well, you know. I always seem to gravitate towards those artists that are on the “Road Less Traveled.” They kind of go their own way. They do their own thing—like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. They just do their own thing. Those are the true artists. They get their creativity out. They not concerned if you love it or hate it. They just do it. Those are the artists that appeal to me. Those are the ones that need a little extra shove. Those are the ones that I really admire.
: And, these award recipients are “mid-career” artists? Right?
HA: Yes. They’re mid-career and they need a little stroking. The award gives them that extra little something to get them to maybe see that they’re really doing something creatively valuable.
AAJ: Does the Alpert Foundation or Cal Arts follow up on the artists to see their results?
HA: Oh, yeah. We do. Some people get a little bit of extra luck as a result of the award. They may get to be at the right place at the right time as a result of it. There are a lot of great artists out there. I know that I was at the right place at the right time. One of the ingredients of success is that you have to have a little bit of luck on your side as well as talent. Timing is a key element.
AAJ: You’ve been involved with the California Institute of the Arts a long time.
HA: Well, they do the nuts and bolts of this effort. We go through their organization.
AAJ: What’s your perspective of the state of music and also arts education in the U.S. these days?
HA: I’m amazed that our politicians and the people in the positions don’t get it. Our whole society is really shaped by artists. Whether they’re architects, musicians, actors, painters, or sculptors— they’re the people that really make this thing really work. It’s sad to see a country that has been so involved in creativity—’cause that’s how we started—yet, while we’ve been able to innovate in so many different areas, to let this happen. We don’t want to take that opportunity away from the young folks that are coming up.
AAJ: Well, with all of the technology that’s out there it’s easier for music artists to bring things to fruition.
HA: Yeah, but, they still have to be heard. There are a lot of great musicians out there. They have the chops and they have everything that they need. But, maybe they don’t have the right personality to keep growing. You know.
AAJ: Perhaps an award such as this perhaps can “lubricate” and facilitate their efforts.
AAJ: I read where you’ve been involved generously in the past and now again with the Harlem School of the Arts?
HA: Yes, right. We’re going to refurbish the school. My involvement started in 2010 when I saw an article that they were closing. They ran out of funds and I jumped in. It was a knee-jerk reaction. I couldn’t believe that a community that had given us so many wonderful artists through the years couldn’t be supported by New York City.