Very definitely a favourite. So many great songs!
Herb Alpert has had one of the most successful careers of the last fifty years between his own hit recordings and his record label, A&M Records.
Alpert established the Herb Alpert Foundation in the mid-80’s after realizing that he had been “blessed beyond his dreams” in his life and career. The foundation was established to provide funding to charitable organizations and institutions that allow young adults to reach their full potential.
On Thursday morning, it was announced that Alpert’s latest grant through the foundation would be a $10.1 million donation to Los Angeles City College to allow them to provide full scholarships to all music majors at the school along with needed instruments. In attendance at the announcement were Alpert, his wife Lani Hall, Los Angeles city officials and the entire music faculty from the school.
Los Angles City College provides post-Secondary education to 40% of the area residents who go on to higher education, including three times as many Latino and four-times as many African-American students as all of the University of California campuses combined.
Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Los Angeles City College Foundation, said “The vast majority of our students are from underserved communities and faced with enormous financial challenges as they strive to attain their academic and career goals. This generous gift from the Herb Alpert Foundation allows these talented students to focus on their studies while pursuing their individual pathways towards successful careers in the music industry.”
He added, “It’s the largest gift to an individual community college in the history of Southern California and it’s the second-largest gift in the history of the state.”
Alpert said “LACC is a gem of an institution. The biggest motivation was helping kids who don’t have the financial energy to go to a major college. At LACC, they’ve nurtured thousands of dedicated students every year.
My brother went there. My ex-partner [record producer] Lou Adler went there. I’ve visited the school. It’s alive. It’s kickin’.”
By Roger Wink
With many thanks to Noise 11
More from The Australian
Herb Alpert, of Tijuana Brass fame, releases new album Human Nature
For almost every successful artist there is a pivotal moment, often coming when they least expect it, that convinces them they are on the right path. Herb Alpert, who in the early 1960s was the undisputed king of an admittedly small kingdom called easy-listening pop trumpet, had that moment during the recording of his third album, South of the Border, with the band that made his name, the Tijuana Brass, in 1964.“While I was mixing it,” says Alpert, who turned 81 in March, “this lady who was mopping up, the maintenance lady, opened the door and said, ‘What are you listening to, honey?’ I said, ‘This is my new album,’ and she said, ‘Oh I just love it. I’ve been dancing around the place.’ At that moment I knew I was on to something.”
By then Alpert, a Californian who had been playing the trumpet since he was eight, was already on his way, having made the charts worldwide in 1962 with what appeared to be a novelty single, The Lonely Bull. An album of the same name charted soon after, but its follow-up, Volume 2, was less successful and made the young musician twitchy, before the cleaning woman calmed him down.
Since that minor blip Alpert has remained a primal force in the easy-listening market, a stretch of 54 years during which he has clocked up sales of more than 80 million albums and a string of instrumental hits such as Spanish Flea, A Taste of Honey and Rise, while as a vocalist his version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s This Guy’s in Love With You was No 1 on the Billboard charts in 1968.
At the peak of his 60s success he had five albums in the Billboard Top 20, three of them in the Top 10. These achievements and more have made Alpert a household name for generations. In conjunction with that musical success, Alpert’s recording label A&M, which he formed with business partner Jerry Moss to release The Lonely Bull, became one of the most successful labels in pop history, with a roster that included the Carpenters, Liza Minnelli, the Police, Janet Jackson, Bryan Adams and a host of others during its tenure.
A modest man who still loves to perform and record, he also has broadened his creative skills to include painting and sculpture and has become well known throughout the US as a philanthropist, particularly through his charity the Herb Alpert Foundation and with the funding of many music and arts projects in schools and universities in the US.
This weekend Alpert is endeavouring to bring his voluminous back catalogue to a new audience by releasing remastered versions of the 28 albums that made him famous. Also, at the end of this month, a new album, Human Nature, will add to his inventory. Despite his age the veteran entertainer is still out on the road, with his wife, singer Lani Hall, by his side.
“I’m more motivated now than ever before,” he says. “The last 10 years or so it’s been easier to play the horn than in the 10 years before that. I’m having more fun doing it.”
The new album, which has a modern electronic feel in places, is still distinctively Alpert, his trumpet the key component in interpretations of songs made famous by Michael Jackson (Human Nature), Bacharach and Elvis Costello (Look Up Again) and Bacharach and David’s Alfie. His strength, he believes, is in being able to stamp his own style and expertise on classic material.
“When I hear a song I like that I can bring something unique to, that’s what I like to explore,” he says. “If I can do a song that is familiar but in a way that is different, that’s fun for me.”
Alpert came to the music industry after cutting his teeth in marching bands, including a spell in the US Army, although he was well versed in classical music as well.
He also recorded a few singles as a singer before having an epiphany of sorts during a holiday in Tijuana, Mexico. He returned home to Los Angeles to fashion a song out of the bullfight he had witnessed there and the mariachi band that was playing at it. Alpert funded the recording of The Lonely Bull himself, but just as important was how he tackled it, playing a series of trumpet parts slightly out of synch with each other. The sound of the Tijuana Brass was born.
The inspiration for this stylistic footprint was American electric guitar pioneer Les Paul and in particular his recording of the song How High the Moon, Alpert says.
“He layered his guitar,” he says. “He played one track and then another on the top, a few times, and came up with a sound that was really interesting. I did that with trumpet. I played all of the trumpet parts on all of the Tijuana Brass records — and that was the sound. I wasn’t trying to affect the feeling. I wasn’t trying to make a hit record. I didn’t even know, in the context of what I was doing, how to do that.”
He did know that to further his career long-term he would have to do more than just refashion the template of The Lonely Bull to have another hit. As it is today, it was not unusual in the 50s and 60s to milk a successful formula dry.
“At the time an artist would have a hit record and then the follow-up would be very much like the hit record,” says Alpert. “They would play the same thing sideways with a little variation. I thought, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I wanted to explore other ways of using this sound that I had developed. It took a while to develop the idea. Prior to that I was trying to play like my favourite musicians, but they’d already done it. I wanted to find my own way of doing things.”
When the hits started coming Alpert was not only astounded by his success, but he and Moss soon had to take on the responsibility of signing other artists to their label. Neither had seen the potential in owning a record company other than to release Tijuana Brass recordings.
“We were just putting out The Lonely Bull,” he says. “When it took off like a rocket we wanted to hold on to it and put out an album. At that point Jerry was more of a businessman than I am. We had to get established with individual distributors around the world. Our distributors in the US were saying, ‘Why don’t you just take the money and run?’ That motivated us to see how long we could hang on to it.”
The criteria for signing other acts were simple ones. “We wanted to make records that we would buy ourselves,” says Alpert. “There was just the two of us, so it was easy to say, ‘Let’s sign this artist.’ It wasn’t a committee.”
The early game changer came in 1970 with another Bacharach-David classic, (They Long to Be) Close to You, recorded by the Carpenters, but the brother and sister duo had a few flops on A&M before that worldwide smash. Then there came a torrent of hit singles and albums from a large array of artists on A&M across the next 20 years.
Alpert and Moss hung on to the label until 1987, when they sold it to multinational entertainment company Polygram for $US500 million, although they remained as managers for another six years. In 2000 Alpert acquired the rights to his back catalogue, which is partly why we are seeing the re-release of it now.
Alpert will go out on the road with his wife and the band they have been employing for the past 11 years to promote Human Nature, although they won’t be coming to Australia, a part of the world he hasn’t toured in since the 60s. Hall is nervous of too much international travel, he says.
The trumpet veteran is far from quitting, however. He’s already working on a new Christmas album to be released next year, featuring an orchestra and choir.
His music spanning the decades has not been to everyone’s liking, but Alpert believes he has made a valid contribution to popular music and he’s planning to keep on doing it.
“With all music there is still only 12 notes,” he says; “whether it’s Mozart, Beethoven, Charlie Parker or the Beatles, they’re all playing with the same 12 notes. How you scramble those notes up into your own thing has always intrigued me.”
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