By MORDECAI SPECKTOR
On the phone last week from his home in Malibu, renowned musician Herb Alpert wished me a “happy new year.”
Asked about his agenda for the day, Alpert, 83, replied, “Today I’m practicing, getting in shape. We start a series of concerts on Saturday, so just getting in shape for that. I already sculpted this morning, and I’m working on some music.”
He chuckles and adds, “My usual stuff — I’m a right-brainer.”
Some cursory research on the internet delivers up the fact that the brain, weighing in at around three pounds, contains 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections. The organ has two halves, or hemispheres, and according to the left brain/right brain theory, imagination, intuition, visualization, rhythm and artistic insights reside in the right hemisphere. On the left side, there’s thinking in words, math, logic, etc.
Regarding his right-brain orientation, Alpert explained, “It’s the creative side of my brain. You know, I paint, I sculpt, I make music, and I have a good time doing that. I’m married to an angel, so I’m a lucky guy.”
The “angel” referred to is Alpert’s wife of nearly 45 years, recording artist Lani Hall, who was one of the singers with Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66. One of the Brazilian bandleader’s hits was “Never Say Never Again,” from the 1983 James Bond movie of the same name; Hall sang the tune.
Alpert and Hall will return to Minneapolis for a Sept. 24 concert at the Guthrie Theater.
When I last talked with Alpert, in October 2014, it was ahead of a three-night stand at the Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis. I attended one of the shows and can vouch for the high-level entertainment quotient of the Alpert-Hall performance. Specifically, Lani Hall is a greatly underrated singer; she was a shining star of the musical evening.
Alpert has played the Guthrie before, and he declared, “I love it. I love the whole feeling of that theater.”
Alpert and Hall will return with the band (keyboards, bass and drums) that they’ve had for a dozen years; however, the Guthrie show will feature a more elaborate staging, with projected images and videos augmenting the music.
“We have a whole new show; it’s nothing like what people saw at the Dakota,” he remarked.
Best known as the leader of the Tijuana Brass, an ensemble that blazed brightly across the pop music firmament in the 1960s (in 1966, the group sold more than 13 million albums, outselling the Beatles, and won six Grammy Awards), Alpert continues to record music and perform.
Last year, he released two albums, The Christmas Wishand Music Volume 1, which both went to the top of the contemporary jazz charts. And next month, Alpert will release Music Volume 3: Herb Alpert Reimagines the Tijuana Brass, which, as the title suggests, features renovated renditions of the beloved group’s catchy tunes: “The Lonely Bull,” “Spanish Flea,” “Whipped Cream,” “A Taste of Honey,” etc.
The inspiration for the forthcoming record was Alpert’s nephew, Randy Alpert, who manages the group. “He says, ‘Uncle, why don’t you take these old Tijuana Brass songs and upgrade them, update them.’ I had no real desire to do that, until I started fooling around with one of the songs and it came out… interesting.”
Alpert pronounced himself “happy” with the results — an album that Tijuana Brass fans won’t want to miss.
(And I should mention a Minneapolis connection to the 1965 Tijuana Brass album Whipped Cream & Other Delights. There’s a lot to say about the hit album; but the memorable record cover featured an attractive woman, model Delores Erickson, sitting in a pile of what is supposed to whipped cream, which artfully enhances her décolletage. The Minneapolis rock band Soul Asylum parodied this image with its 1989 album, Clam Dip & Other Delights. The cover depicts the group’s late bassist, Karl Mueller, sitting in a pile of “clam dip.” According to the entry in Wikipedia, “Mueller had to sit for hours in a foul-smelling combination of sour cream, paint, whipped cream and sea food.” As it happened, Soul Asylum recorded two albums for A&M Records, the label founded by Alpert and partner Jerry Moss.)
And an article about Herb Alpert, who has enjoyed phenomenal commercial success, should mention his significant philanthropy. The Herb Alpert Foundation, which is overseen by both Alpert and Hall, endowed the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA. Working with the Thelonious Monk Institute, the school has focused on “cross-cultural experimentation and musical diversity with an emphasis on music and influences from around the world.” The music industry has gone through a period of disruptive innovation, and the Herb Alpert School of Music helps prepare young musicians for the new music business terrain.
Also, when I asked Alpert about playing in Israel, he mentioned traveling to the Jewish state in 1979, for the opening of the Louis and Tillie Alpert Music Center (“Beit Alpert”). The school named in honor of Alpert’s parents, which is located in the Wolfson Garden in the Hinnom Valley of Jerusalem, brings together young Arab and Jewish Israeli musicians. The Jewish-Arab Youth Orchestra, which features traditional and modern instruments, is based at the center and receives support from The Jerusalem Foundation.
Ahead of my interview with Alpert, I read some recent interviews with him. He told a writer for The Californian: “I’m not an intellectual about this stuff, that’s why I think I’ve been successful: I just go for the feel.”
He was quoted accurately, he said. “That’s all there is to it with the arts…. It’s all about a feel.”
And when I mentioned listening intently to improvised music, having to “open your ears,” Alpert said that you “open your soul, you listen with your soul, not your ears.”
Music “resonates in a deeper spot.”
The Dakota and Live at the Guthrie present Herb Alpert and Lani Hall in concert 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage of the Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis. Tickets on sale at the Guthrie, or call the Guthrie box office at 612-377-2224.