This Guy’s In Love With You
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass made musical history back in the ’60s, at the same time Lani Hall’s Brasil ’66 was enjoying popularity. The couple, now married 43 years, takes the Blue Note Hawaii stage Dec. 15-18 in Waikiki
It was a half-century ago this year when music in America changed forever. There was not a single moment but millions of them, sound-tracked by thousands of songs written by hundreds of artists. At the center of it, though, stand two men, one representing the old guard and one the new wave of sonic realization. These men rise above the crowd not just for their contributions, but also for what they have reaped as the two wealthiest performing musical acts in history.
The first, you have probably guessed, is Sir Paul McCartney and his Beatles mates. In 1966, they had begun to shed their foppish looks and candy-sweet lyrics about holding hands and driving cars for the meatier section of their collection with the release of Revolver and Rubber Soul. Yet, despite the British Invasion being in full swing, the No. 1 album of that year was Whipped Cream and Other Delights, with more than 13 million sold, by the No. 2 man on the list and the focus of this article, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
This was a year of delineation. The two decades prior were full of top-selling albums that were used as soundtracks for major Broadway plays including My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and West Side Story, with a sprinkling of orchestral pieces from Henry Mancini and Harry Belafonte. The years after 1966 saw top sellers from acts with names like The Monkees, Iron Butterfly and Jimi Hendrix.
So, what was it like to stand at the forefront of the revolution and in many ways usher it in through his gigantic record label A&M Records?
“I think timing played a big part, but my success came from being the ‘A’ in A&M Records, and timing is a big part of any business,” says Alpert, who will be on stage Dec. 15-18 at Blue Note Hawaii in Waikiki. “If we tried to start A&M in today’s environment, it wouldn’t have happened, but in 1962, when we released The Lonely Bull it was perfect timing. The stars just lined up. It was a different time in history — pre-computers. People were listening to the radio and top 40. It was before The Beat-les. They came in and shifted things around.”
A great deal of Alpert’s fortune stems from A&M Records being perfectly positioned when the shifting began, as it released albums for artists as disparate as Carole King and Cat Stevens, to later superstars such as The Police and Janet Jackson. When he and his partner Jerry Moss sold the label two decades later, the little independent fetched more than a half-billion dollars.
Before he became a business tycoon and writer of 14 platinum albums, Alpert was just a shy Jewish kid growing up in Los Angeles, and it was a chance meeting with the brass instrument that would become his voice that changed his entire life arc.
“I was lucky. When I was 8 years old, we had this music-appreciation class in my grammar school and there was a table filled with instruments, and I just happened to pick up the trumpet,” recalls Alpert. “I couldn’t make a sound out of it right away. When I finally did, it was talking for me because I was very shy as a kid and this instrument made a lot of noise. It was a good deal.
“I was very fortunate that I had the exposure to music and was encouraged to stick with it. Years ago, when the arts programs were cut out of our public schools, so many kids stopped having that kind of opportunity.”
It is for this reason that he has put his considerable wealth behind Herb Alpert Foundation, which supports a number of educational, arts and compassion-oriented programs dedicated to help young people reach their potential and lead productive, fulfilling lives, and to support their unique creative energies and special talents. HAF supports young people to live free from prejudice and, with its many programs, nurtures a capacity for empathy, compassion, mutual respect, tolerance and kindness.
“I feel very strongly about young kids having a creative experience early in their childhood, whether you want to be a sculptor, painter, actor, singer, it doesn’t matter,
as long as you do something that is sparking your creativity,” says Alpert. “I think kids have a good chance of appreciating their own uniqueness. Then, if they can do that, they can appreciate the uniqueness in others. I think we need a hell of a lot more of that in the world today.”
To keep jazz alive, HAF has worked with Thelonius Monk Institute at UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, which focuses on cross-cultural experimentation and musical diversity, with an emphasis on music and influences from around the world. In an effort to prepare young musicians to succeed in a world far different than the one he knew when starting out, the school is part of Alpert’s vision of the transformative power of the creative experience.
He also made the single biggest donation to a community college in the history of California when he endowed Los Angeles Community College with $10.1 million to provide all the school’s music majors with a tuition-free education.
His partner in philanthropy and music is his wife of 43 years, Lani Hall, whom he met while producing albums for her band Brasil ’66 for A&M Records. They have a condo here in Kahala and generally come out every December to celebrate their anniversary.
Their memories of Hawaii go back to when Don Ho used to do his show in the International Marketplace and had Alpert join him on stage to add his trumpet to renditions of the Kui Lee classic I’ll Remember You.
To mark this anniversary, they decided to bring their three-piece band for some intimate shows at Blue Note Hawaii in Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort.
“We usually celebrate our anniversary here in the Islands. It is a double special moment for us. We are going to have fun playing, and hopefully people are going to have fun listening to us,” says Alpert, who last performed here two years ago at Blaisdell Concert Hall. “I feel fortunate to have the career I have had, but my wife and I are doing concerts now. We have been traveling around the country for the past 11 years, having a lot of fun and people leave feeling better than when they walked in, so it is a win-win for me.”
The show will have the Latin tinges one comes to expect from an Alpert show, who discovered his sound while in Mexico watching the bullfights. The sound of the mariachis excited him, and he believed it would be a hit stateside, but no one could have expected how big a hit it became.
Songs like A Taste of Honey, Spanish Flea, Mexican Shuffle and his No. 1 hit This Guy’s In Love With You filled the radio airwaves in the 1960s and was the soundtrack for shows and movies for the past half century, from The Dating Game to movies in-
cluding Shrek, Jerry Maguire and Charlie’s Angels.
Even with a catalogue of 24 albums of material to choose from, not to mention the volumes his wife has recorded, expectations at the show should be that of any jazz show you attend: Anything can happen.
“You won’t be disappointed, but I can’t tell you exactly what you are going to hear,” says Alpert. “You will hear a little Tijuana Brass medley, a little Brasil ’66 medley, and around that there will be a lot of variations of different kinds of music we like playing. It is very spontaneous, each night will be different. There is a feeling I get when I play that gives me energy, it doesn’t take energy from me. I am open for whatever happens — improvisations.”
What can be guaranteed that you will see is the chemistry that comes from a lifetime together as life mates and band mates, no small feat in the cutthroat world of music, where egos and emotions too often bring quick ends to promising collaborations.
“The secret is passion,” says Alpert. “Passion about what I do. I sculpt, paint, make music and I am in love with my wife. I wake up in the morning with things to do. You have to find that thing you are passionate about in life and, luckily, I did.”