World renowned Herb Alpert and Lani Hall bring Grammy Award-winning talents to Variety Playhouse
The nine-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Herb Alpert is performing at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on Monday, Dec. 5. Beginning in the 1960s, Alpert was the bandleader of the Tijuana Brass and co-founder of A&M Records, one of the most influential independent record labels in the world. His extensive career earned him 15 gold albums and 14 platinum, even outselling the Beatles at one point. In 2012, President Obama awarded him the National Medal of the Arts. Before he hits the stage in Atlanta with his wife, the Grammy Award-winning vocalist Lani Hall, Alpert joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom for a conversation about his love for the trumpet and for cultivating fellow musicians.
On discovering the trumpet:
“I had this lucky experience in my grammar school here in Los Angeles. There was a music class and a table filled with various instruments. I could have picked up a trombone, a clarinet … I happened to pick up the trumpet and I couldn’t make a sound out of it. I thought you’d just blow hot air into the instrument, and it doesn’t work like that. But there was something about the shape of it and the weight of it that just worked for me,” recalled Alpert.
He went on, “Over, actually, a short period of time, I started making a sound out of it, and I realized that the trumpet was talking for me because I am an introvert. I’m a card-carrying introvert and as soon as that trumpet started making a sound, it was kind of speaking for me instead of me having to form the words — the horn was doing it. So it became a great friend of mine.”
Conceiving the “Tijuana Brass Band,” a name representing Alpert’s mostly-solo recordings:
“I used to go to bullfights about three years in a row to Tijuana, which is not that far from where I live. My partner Jerry [Moss], would oftentimes be with me, and there was a brass band in the stands that I kind of took to. It wasn’t a mariachi band, it was just a band that was playing these fanfares for the various events during the bullfight and I had an idea to try to put that feeling on tape. That was the genesis of ‘The Lonely Bull,'” said Alpert.
“When I started in this business — I’m going to really date myself here — I had a Webcor wire recorder. This was before magnetic tape, and then I had a tape machine … and then I got a two-track tape machine. But I had, at one point, two tape machines and I was listening to that record by Les Paul and Mary Ford, ‘How High the Moon,’ and Les used to layer his guitar many times on the tapes, going from one machine to the next. And I tried doing that with the trumpet and all of a sudden I hit on this sound, and it was like, almost, ‘Bingo. That’s a good sound.’ And that was basically the sound of the Tijuana Brass.”
On the rare integrity and care practiced by Alpert’s label, A&M Records:
“In 1964, we signed Waylon Jennings. He was a disc jockey and a musician in Arizona, Phoenix. I used to go down to Phoenix and record Waylon every couple months and did this one recording of them called ‘Four Strong Winds.’ That was a song written by Bobby Bare,” Alpert recounted. “It was a really good recording, and at the time I wanted Waylon to be a little more pop and Waylon really wanted to be a country artist. And my partner Jerry and I both thought we would let Waylon out of his contracts because it was in Waylon’s interest.”
“I remember the day we signed his release. My partner actually signed it and I looked at him, I said, ‘Jerry, this guy’s gonna be a big star.’ And he said, ‘I know it.’ And we let him go. And it gives me goosebumps just to tell the story, but I think that was the feeling I got. I said, ‘If we can be that honest with artists that we have and be that upfront and that interested in them and their career, we’re going to be a big success,’ and that was the door that opened wide open for me when I really realized we were onto something.”
Herb Alpert and Lani Hall will perform at the Variety Playhouse Monday, Dec. 5. Tickets and more information are available at www.variety-playhouse.com/events/detail/?event_id=445628.