To call Herb Alpert prolific would be an understatement. The trumpeter, formerly of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, is also an accomplished visual artist and the co-founder of A&M Records (the A stands for Alpert, natch).
He’s touring now with his wife, Lani Hall. Salt Lake magazine had the opportunity to speak with Alpert by phone to talk about his life’s work and his stop at The State Room later this week.
SLM: Mr. Alpert, it’s an honor to chat with you. I don’t even know where to start. I’ve been doing some research and you’ve had quite a career.
HA: Well, OK. I was born in 1935.
SLM: That is a good place to start. How would you summarize your career? What do you see as the highlights?
HA: In a nutshell I’m a lucky guy. I’m passionate about what I do. I make music. I’ve been making music since I was eight years old. I paint now—I’ve been painting for 50 years and sculpting for about 40. I’m passionate about my life. I feel like such a lucky guy. I get to wake up every morning next to an angel.
SLM: I wanted to talk to you about that angel because I don’t want her career to get lost in this. She is a noted musician on her own. What should people know about her?
HA: Absolutely, she’s a world-class singer. All you have to do is listen to the records she did with with Sergio Mendez and the Brasil 66. I auditioned them in 1966, and that’s how Lani and I met—she was on those early recordings. She was with Sergio for six or seven years and her talent is obvious. We’ve been traveling for the last 12 years doing about 50 concerts a year and having a great time. A great time in the sense that we get the chance to make people happy with the music that we make.
SLM: And you’ve been married how long?
HA: 44 years
SLM: So, what took you so long to begin touring together?
HA: Well, 12 years is a long time and I was doing other things. And at the start of the idea I was a little reluctant. I thought people would just want to hear the Tijuana Brass music but it didn’t turn out to be that way. The first two concerts we did I didn’t play any Tijuana Brass at all and everyone seemed satisfied. It’s been a great evolution.
SLM: That’s a good place for me to ask—what should people expect at this show you’re playing in Salt Lake?
HA: Well it’s going to be lots of different things. A little bit of jazz, a little bit of pop, a little bit of Brazilian, I’ll do a Tijuana Brass medley and Lani will do a Brasil 66 medley. It’s very spontaneous, it’s different every night, which is why it’s so fun to do.
SLM: I tried to find the last time you were in Salt Lake and Google was no help. Do you remember when that was?
HA: It was a long time ago. It was with the Tijuana Brass and that was… geez… my memory for that is not great.
SLM: It predates Google! So, you have a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, you got a Presidential Medal of Arts and National Humanities from Barack Obama—what drives you to keep touring?
HA: I do what I love to do. I feel lucky that I’m able to do that. I enjoy playing. I started playing when I was eight, I had a great opportunity in my elementary school. I try to pass that onto kids when I can with the Herb Alpert Foundation. And it gives me great pleasure to be able to play the music I play, it seems to appeal to a lot of people and I think people leave the venue feeling a lot better than when they arrived.
SLM: You could frame any success in life that way, right? If you’re leaving people better than the way you found them, that’s a good life.
HA: I hope people think like that. That’s just the way I’m wired. I want to put out my music on the upside of life.
SLM: Do you want to talk about your painting and sculpting? How did you get started with that?
HA: I used to gravitate towards modern art and I was excited at the idea of painting. It started as a hobby but evolved into something interesting because I got inquiries from different galleries that wanted to show my work. I took that chance, people bought a couple paintings. I do that now, not as a hobby, I do it every day of my life. It’s part of me now.
SLM: You’re kind of a Renaissance man, in a way.
HA: Like I started out by saying, I’m a lucky guy. Timing plays a big success. I’ve been in the right place at the right time. I put in my time on the instrument but when that door opened for me in 1952, I was ready.
SLM: Something I like to ask every musician I talk to is: What do you listen to?
HA: I listen to various types of music. I came up through the classical field. I have a classical background. If I’m feeling a little lonely or a little down, I might turn on Ravel, I’ll listen to Daphnis et Chloe, especially the fourth movement.
SLM: What about when you’re happy?
HA: I listen to jazz. I like jazz because it’s of the moment. I think we’re all looking for freedom. We’re all looking to be free and to express ourselves freely as human beings. I think jazz resembles that.
SLM: Are you listening to contemporary jazz or jazz standards?
HA: Through the years I’ve had a lot of friends in jazz. Stan Getz was a friend and a genius, so was Jerry Mulligan. I knew Miles Davis. I have rubbed elbows with a lot of great musicians.
SLM: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention in the last couple minutes we have that you and the Tijuana Brass have one of the most iconic album covers of all time. People I’ve talked to who don’t know your music still know that cover.
HA: It’s funny you mention that, because in the show I’ll mention that. Everywhere I go people mention that cover. It happened to me one time, this album had been released a month and a half and this guy comes up to me and says he loves the cover, he loves the girl, he loves the whipped cream, he thinks it’s the best album he’s seem in his lifetime, blah, blah, blah. I said ‘Thank you. What about the music?’ He says, ‘I haven’t had a chance to listen yet.’ So yes, it’s been a cover that has affected a lot of people.
SLM: Did you expect that when you picked that cover?
HA: Not only did I not expect it, I didn’t even like it. When I first saw it. I thought I didn’t know if it represented the music I was making. At that time it felt like it was too risque, but obviously in today’s world it’s not risque at all.
SLM: But it was! Did you get pushback?
HA: It was all in good fun. It had a tongue-in-cheek quality to it. It really took hold.
SLM: I figure this interview is a good way to introduce people to you. So if there’s anything we haven’t touched on that you want people to know, speak now or forever hold your peace.
HA: I guarantee no one will be disappointed at the concert. The band is great. We’ve been doing it for 12 years to standing ovations every night. It’s uplifting. I think the beautiful part of music is that it transports you when you hear a beautiful song that touches you. Musicians are healers. When you go to a concert you’re in that moment of your life and that’s the beautiful thing about concerts.
Herb Alpert and Lani Hall play The State Room on September 19. More information available here.