Herb Alpert Proves That Dreams Do Come True

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“I like to just click on songs that touched me and see if I could do them in a personal way — especially if it’s a well-known song,” Alpert said about selecting material for his new album.

(Photo: Dewey Nicks)

In 2020, writer and director John Scheinfeld released the feature documentary Herb Alpert Is … . “I liked it, but I was very reluctant in doing a documentary to begin with,” the subject of the film admitted. “I just thought it was kind of a little bit self-serving. Ultimately, what I wanted to do was have a documentary for my grandkids and their grandkids.

“Overall, it was good. But I thought it was maybe a little too long,” Alpert continued.

Given all he has accomplished in his 88 years, Alpert’s life alternately might be perfect for a much longer Ken Burns mini-series. The trumpeter/multi-multi-hyphenate is on the phone from his home in Malibu to discuss Wish Upon A Star, which was released in mid-September on his own Herb Alpert Presents label. Though he’s officially promoting his 49th and latest album, the Los Angeles native was happy to revisit myriad points from his memorial and still-active career.

“I like to just click on songs that touched me and see if I could do them in a personal way — especially if it’s a well-known song,” he replied when asked about his new album’s broad selection of material. Ranging from standards such as “Angel Eyes” and “On The Street Where You Live” to classic pop favorites like Paul Williams’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” and the Disney-associated title track. “I try to do them in a way that hasn’t quite been done before. That’s always been an approach of mine.”

“Mr. Herb is always searching for those nuances that make the music move your body,” wrote Jaz Sawyer, in an email. “There always has to be a spiritual connection inside the music, or else you won’t find what you are truly seeking.” The drummer, educator and bandleader played on the album track “(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame” and has fond memories of that studio session.

“We tapped into a feel that called for a jazzy/second line/zydeco thang for that Elvis (Presley) number. It was a very Herb approach to exploring a feel of a song,” Sawyer recounted. “‘I want you to get inside of it,’ he would express to me.”

As the “A” in A&M Records — along with his late partner Jerry Moss — Alpert has deep connections to Wish Upon A Stars songs and far beyond. “Waltz For Stan” revisits an Eddie Del Barrio original first recorded on Stan Getz’s Apasionado (A&M, 1990). “That touches my heart,” Alpert said, of his 21st century interpretation of the composition. “I wanted to do it in a way that I would think Stan would have appreciated.

“Stan Getz was one of my best friends,” he added. When Getz was living in Northern California, Alpert cold-called him and asked him, “‘I was wondering whether there’s something you’d like to record or something you’d like to do that you haven’t been able to do during your amazing career,’ and he didn’t really know what to say at the time. But that piqued his interest.”

Over a studio-enabled orchestra of synthesizers and horns, Getz was able to “play lyrical solos. The rest is history, and he turned out to be one of my best friends,” Alpert remembered. Apasionado was Getz’s sole release on A&M, the label Alpert and Moss co-founded 1962 and ran until 1993. Midnight Sun, Alpert’s final album on A&M, was released in 1992 and includes the inscription: “This album is dedicated to my forever friend Stan Getz.” Getz had passed away a year earlier.

Another highlight from Wish Upon A Star is a fusion Afro-Cuban arrangement of “Poinciana,” a signature piece of the late Ahmad Jamal. When the fact that one of the pianist’s new posthumous releases (Emerald City Nights: Live At The Penthouse 1965–1966, Jazz Detective) features the Burt Bacharach & Hal David classic “Alfie,” Alpert naturally has a remarkable story:

“I happened to play that at Burt Bacharach’s memorial,” he said. “It was one of Burt’s favorite songs.” The Bacharach/David songbook has played a significant role for Alpert as a both an artist and a producer. He’s the only performer to earn number one singles as both a vocalist (in 1968 with his version of the pair’s “This Guy’s In Love With You”) and an instrumentalist (“Rise” from 1979).

“Ahmad was one of my favorite artists, as well. And he was one of Miles’ favorites, too,” Alpert said. “And Miles was the guy who really understood the genre and took it to many different places.”

Alpert and Davis shared a love for Shirley Horn, another musician who mastered space and silence. “I’m crazy about her. My good friend Johnny Mandel did the charts for her,” he recalled, referencing Horn’s 1992 masterpiece Here’s To Life as well as her recommendable You’re My Thrill from 2001. “He did some really beautiful work with her.”

A frisky version of Jerry Reed’s “East Bound And Down” is Wish Upon A Star’s first track. It opened the door for another Alpert milestone — playing at the Grand Ole Opry. “I just didn’t even think anyone knew me out there,” he said. His take on the Smokey and the Bandit soundtrack classic caught the ears of the powers-that-be in Nashville, and he was invited to perform.

“That was really a moment in my life that I wasn’t expecting,” he said. When asked if he had done much listening to country music in the past, he pointed out that A&M “discovered Waylon Jennings” and broke the outlaw country pioneer into the mainstream.

In addition to being a working musician and the former leader of the Tijuana Brass with nine Grammy awards and 14 platinum albums, Alpert is a Broadway producer who co-produced works like Tony Kushner’s Angels In America and The Boy From Oz. Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill jazz venue and restaurant in Los Angeles presents live music nightly, and its owner is also an active painter and sculptor, with his painting featured on the Wish Upon A Star album cover.

“I’ve been sculpting for 40, 45 years,” he said. “And I have a 14-foot trumpet player that’s going to the New Orleans Jazz Museum.” The idea wasn’t to represent himself or Louis Armstrong, he clarifies. “I was just trying to get the feeling what it feels like to play music.”

These days, Alpert is arguably as well known as a philanthropist as he is for his music. The Herb Alpert Foundation — established in 1985 by Alpert and his wife, Lani Hall — has supported 75 different organizations ranging from the Jazz Foundation of America and the Jazz Education Network to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Homeboy Industries, which provides “hope, training and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women.” There’s also Herb Alpert Schools of Music at UCLA and CalArts and the Herb Alpert Music Center at Los Angeles City College.

“I wanted to be able to pass that on, the idea that the arts are so crucially important to the soul of our country,” he said of some of his many charitable efforts. “And I wanted to be able to make sure that artists who are passionate about what they’re doing have the opportunity to travel the road less traveled.”

Life remains active and rewarding for Alpert and Hall, who celebrated their golden anniversary in December and continue to share bandstands together. “I’m grateful to have married an angel,” he reflected. A multiple Grammy winner herself, Hall was singing with A&M recording artist Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 when she met Alpert.

“It’s a really good feeling traveling and performing together,” he concluded. “The only thing that’s not so great is packing and unpacking.” DB



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