Since catapulting into the spotlight in 1962 with the Tijuana Brass, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame trumpeter Herb Alpert has sold more than 72 million records, won nine Grammys and received a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.
Yes, the man has some brass.
Alpert also co-founded A&M Records and worked on a plethora of best-selling records with everyone from The Carpenters to Liza Minnelli to Janet Jackson. In 1987, he and partner Jerry Moss sold A&M to PolyGram Records for $500 million.
Alpert considers it all, or at least most of it, to be luck. He’s says timing has played a key role in all his success.
“When I started Tijuana Brass, trumpets had just become in vogue,” he says. “It’s cyclical. That happened for a period of time in the music business, then you go on to doo wop and saxophones, then lead singers and artists who can dance.”
He applies a similar logic to A&M Records. Alpert doesn’t think he could’ve pulled off such an endeavor in today’s record industry.
“In the early ’60s, there was a period when there were a lot of little record companies operating out of the trunks of their car,” he explains. “If you released a record you took it to a big radio station. If they liked it they put it on the air, and you were off to the races if the audience responded. Today, you don’t have that kind of opportunity.”
Even though the climate of the music industry is nothing like it was when Tijuana Brass started out, Alpert says his advice to young artists trying to make it in the music business still holds up: “Don’t do a darn thing unless you’re passionate about it,” he says. “Don’t even make an attempt.”
The 80-year-old legend, whose net-worth is estimated to be around $800 million, recently released In The Mood, an album coated in passion.
It helps having his wife of over 40 years, Grammy Award – winning singer Lani Hall, appear on half the songs. The alto vocalist doesn’t sound much different than she did when she led Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66 to international stardom with “Mas Que Nada” – she’s also accompanying Alpert on tour, which stops Saturday at the Sunset Center. Like everything else in his life, Alpert attributes his matrimonial success to timing. Hall came along at a point in Alpert’s life when he was able to appreciate her differences.
“There’s no doubt that women are from Mars, but when we run into a snag I try to look at it from her point of view and see what she might be thinking about,” he says. “I heard a proverb once that sticks with me: Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy? I’m at the point in my life where I just want to feel good.”
In The Mood is an eclectic array of standards and originals. Alpert included a pair of Everly Brothers tunes, “Let It Be Me” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” as a tribute to Phil Everly’s recent passing, but mostly as a tribute to the Everly Brothers’ influence on the entire popular music world.
“They brought so much to pop music in the ’60s and ’70s,” he says. “These songs are synonymous with their style and I have fun playing them. I’ve always felt that if I have fun playing a song someone else may have fun listening to it.”
Adding an original spin to someone else’s work comes somewhat naturally for Alpert.
“My trumpet playing has a unique quality to it that’s very identifiable,” he says. “Any time I play a song it has my own ring to it.”
Glenn Miller’s “Chattanooga Choo Choo” undergoes a more extreme facelift with the fusion of electronic and Latin elements added to the mix. The album bookend, meanwhile, Alpert’s rendition of “America the Beautiful,” employs percussive instruments from all seven continents of the world – though Alpert’s not sure how Antarctica is represented – while depicting the United States as a melting pot.
In a way, Alpert could be called a creative melting pot of culture. In addition to his music, he’s an acclaimed painter and sculptor, with works in the permanent collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Since 1969, Alpert has been known for his medium experimentation. Check out his “Coffee Series” to see organic coffee used in ways you never knew were possible. And don’t forget about theater: Alpert’s also a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer (Angels in America). He’s even creative with the way he gives away money.
“I don’t just want to buy these great artists and hang them on my wall for millions,” Alpert explains. “I want to do something important with the money I chose to give away.”
He’s donated over $100 million through the Herb Alpert Foundation, which usually takes the form of starter funds to to push innovative founders to the next level in their work.
“I’ve been blessed beyond my wildest dreams,” Alpert says, “and it’s important to be a community-minded human being.”
HERB ALPERT and LANI HALL 8pm Saturday, May 9. Sunset Center, Ninth and San Carlos, Carmel. Sold out. 620-2048, www.sunsetcenter.org