Herb Alpert on Tijuana Brass, Painting and Sculpting, and the New Documentary “Herb Alpert Is…”
Legendary recording artist Herb Alpert is the kind of guy who gives you keen, friendly marriage advice just because he cares. He’s kind and smooth and insightful. Alpert’s Tijuana Brass sound took over the 1960s (outselling The Beatles for a stretch) and along the way he started the famed A&M record label, which worked with artists from The Carpenters to Sérgio Mendes. Alpert is also a philanthropist. When the Harlem School of the Arts was going to close, he made sure it wouldn’t with a huge financial donation.
This year, Herb Alpert Is…, a new documentary about the artist’s life, will hit streaming screens. In it, viewers see a window into his life, not only as a musician, but also as a painter and sculptor. It’s accompanied by a 63-song box set of the same name.
We caught up with the lifelong creative soul—who recently released a cover version of “Smile” (co-written by Charlie Chaplin and memorably also performed by Nat King Cole)—to ask him about his days in music, his thoughts on the importance of art, and feeling.
Jake Uitti (Under the Radar): I know you were introduced to the trumpet early on in grade school. And you picked it up from a group of instruments in class one day and it spoke to you. But independent of that experience, when did first discover music in a personal way?
Herb Alpert: I did have that moment when the trumpet was talking for me. That’s only because I was starting to make noise on it. [Laughs] I wasn’t really making music. I was just making a sound and that was the sound I couldn’t really get out of my mouth. But I guess it took about three or four years before I started, you know, being able to play some songs and have some fun doing that. Then I joined the little band that was in my junior high school. And when I was in high school, I was part of a little trio. We started playing parties and weddings and it became rather successful because we were on this High Talent battle show that was new in Los Angeles in the beginnings years of television. We won this show about 12 weeks in a row. Because of that we became, like, a known quantity. People started coming up to me and saying, “Hey, I like the way you play!” So, I got encouragement but at the same time, I was insecure, you know, like most artists are. And I started trying to play a little bit like my favorite musicians and then I had the ah-ha! “Who wants to hear that? These guys have already done it.” I was looking for my own voice. That’s when the breakthrough happened.
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