TRUMPETER HERB ALPERT DRAWS A SWINGING CROWD AT JAZZ FEST 2017
Headliner Alpert closed out, along with vocalist Lani Hall, on the first day of the fest’s second weekend. Fans peered in from the edges of the tent, grouped in clusters at its entrances, and danced on the pavement near the beer stands and craft booths.
Alpert, who is 82, made his best-remembered records in the 1960s. His 1965 “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” with the Tijuana Brass, the title track of which was written by the late Allen Toussaint, became an indelible American earworm as theme music on “The Dating Game.”
Its followup, “Going Places,” was another addictive, rollicking collection of jazzy pop that included well-known Alpert cuts like “Tijuana Taxi” and “Spanish Flea.”
But the crowd at the Jazz Tent wasn’t a nostalgia crew. Those dancing in the doorways included new converts like 24-year-old Houstonian Lena Fjerstad, who had left her friends watching jam band Widespread Panic at the Acura Stage.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s catchy, and it’s loud.”
There were also lifelong fans like 60-year-old trumpet player Ray Oborn who, along with his companion Merryn Hallouelle, arranges music-focused tours in the United States for groups from their native Australia. (The pair, sporting their WWOZ Brass Passes, were at Jazz Fest on Thursday for fun, not work.)
“I knew the Herb Alpert songbook as a teenager,” Oborn said, “but I’ve never seen him before. He’s fabulous. And they seem very much in love.”
Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, who have been married for 43 years, met when he signed the bossa nova jazz artist Sergo Mendes and his group Brasil 66, for whom Hall was a singer, to Alpert’s A&M Records.
From the Jazz Fest stage, Alpert recalled – with genuine pleasure, it seemed – the first time he heard his future wife perform. “I was absolutely knocked out,” he said.
The couple shared the stage with an easy give-and-take that implied a long and happy partnership, both romantic and creative. Her turns in the spotlight were slinky slow-burning numbers in English, Spanish and Portuguese, from a dramatic take on “Besame Mucho” to a medley of ‘60s pop gems including the Hal David/Burt Bacharach composition “The Look Of Love” and Carole King’s “Up On The Roof.”
Alpert’s horn served as the second voice during “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” played gently and eloquently, a fresh take for New Orleans ears used to Louis Prima and Keely Smith’s wild, careening version.
The pair and their tight combo brought a sophisticated cocktail-lounge vibe to the Jazz Tent; even amid all the sandals and cargo shorts, you could almost hear ice clinking in cocktail glasses.
And though Alpert quoted his cheery, rollicking and slightly goofy hits, like “Whipped Cream” and “Tijuana Taxi,” the show was more than anything a demonstration by a gang of pros, sharp musicians who take popular sounds seriously and can show you how, too — without taking away an ounce of fun.
The group ably deconstructed a run of Beatles songs, including a cha-cha “Fool On The Hill” and a slow, smooth “Something,” revealing new layers of complexity and passion.
They closed out with a booming take on “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” the Irving Berlin perennial that appeared on Alpert’s Grammy-winning 2013 album Steppin’ Out; swing dancers twirled and dipped their way home.