You might not think of 82-year-old trumpet maestro, pop music mogul and philanthropist Herb Alpert as a pioneer of world music, but there’s no doubt he is. With Jewish roots in Ukraine and Romania, Alpert burst on the scene in 1962 with a sultry pop take on mariachi music, “The Lonely Bull,” a song that came out of nowhere to rival sales of the then-emerging Beatles. Alpert’s evocation of Mexico made his band The Tijuana Brass—which he described as “four lasagnas, two bagels and an American cheese”—a popular sensation, winning six Grammys and releasing 15 gold albums before disbanding in 1969. And Alpert was just getting started.
In the ‘70s, he championed as well as recorded and performed with fellow trumpeter Hugh Masekela during his exile from apartheid South Africa. (For more on that story, check out Afropop’s program “San Francisco: Afropop by the Bay.”) Afropop’s own Georges Collinet used the intro to Alpert’s “A Taste of Honey” as the theme to his Voice of America broadcast Bonjour L’Afrique. And of course, post-Tijuana Brass, Alpert went on to demonstrate legendary music industry savvy and to engage in generous charitable activities, mostly focused on music education through his Herb Alpert Foundation.
Early on, Alpert signed Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ‘66 to his label, A&M, and he went on to marry that group’s singer, Lani Hall, in 1973. They now perform together with a small ensemble, clearly for the sheer pleasure of it. They return to their favorite New York haunt, Café Carlyle, for a residency from Sept. 5-16. Afropop has twice attended this event and it is a memorable experience. Alpert’s lively wit, loose and easy rapport with his band and loving chemistry with Hall are disarming and delightful as they ramble freely through vivid remembrances and hits past and present.
Yes, present. Alpert’s newest album Herb Alpert Music Vol. One is currently topping Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart, driven no doubt in part by his winning new video “I’m Yours,” a love song with a twist. It’s the work of a man in love with the world, with music and with love itself. Don’t miss it!
For more on the maestro’s global doings, check out Banning Eyre’s 2015 interview with Herb Alpert.