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Soundposts

A blog for Seattle music lovers of all stripes, from hip-hop and indie rock to jazz and world music.

November 7, 2014 at 5:01 AM

Herb Alpert at 79 still has that knack | Concert preview

Mention the Edgewater Hotel and the first image that comes to mind for Seattleites is the Beatles fishing out the window in 1964.

But something else also happened in pop music at that bayside auberge a year later. Trumpeter Herb Alpert, who plays Jazz Alley next week with his wife, vocalist Lani Hall, had an important epiphany.

Alpert is the “A” in the hugely successful label, A & M Records (the “M” was for Jerry Moss) and the inventor of the doubled-up trumpet sound of Tijuana Brass. By 1962, Alpert had made inroads with “The Lonely Bull,” inspired by the music at Tijuana bullfights. As a follow-up, A & M released an arrangement of “The Third Man Theme,” with a second movie theme, “A Taste of Honey,” on the flip side.

But every time the band played “Honey” at the Edgewater, “people would go crazy,” recalled the 79-year-old trumpet man, speaking from his home in Malibu, Calif. “I called Jerry and said, ‘We’re on the wrong side.’ Jerry was skeptical: ‘You can’t dance to it, the thing stops in the middle twice, it goes against the grain of pop radio.’”

Alpert prevailed, and the single hit No. 1 on the adult-contemporary charts and won four Grammy awards. The album it appeared on, “Whipped Cream and Other Delights,” became the first of Alpert’s 14 platinum (million-selling) records. The cover, featuring a girl wrapped in whipped cream and not much else, became as famous as the music.

Alpert says he and Moss were “lucky” — they eventually sold A & M in 1990 for $500 million, after releasing huge albums by Brasil ’66 and The Carpenters, as well as one by Seattle keyboard man Dave Lewis — but Alpert is far too modest. A classically trained trumpet player who taught himself arranging, he has always had a knack for bringing tasty, artful twists to commercial music.

On “A Taste of Honey,” he revved up the tempo, added a hard, Quincy Jones-style accent on the first beat of each snappy phrase and a series of reverbed trumpet “echoes” that, to this day, baby boomers will involuntarily start singing if you dare mention the song.

So what’s his secret?

“Go with your gut, that’s all,” he says. “I learned that from Sam Cooke. That’s the beauty of art, sculpture, dance — there’s a mystery to it.”

Alpert’s mention of other art forms is not accidental. An accomplished abstract painter and sculptor, he spends part of each day making visual art as well as music.

“I’m an 85 percenter in the right side of my brain,” he says, referring to his creative half.

At this point, Alpert could easily stay home in Malibu, paint and direct the Herb Alpert Foundation, which focuses on music education. (It has given more than $20 million to California Institute of the Arts and $30 million to the University of California, Los Angeles to endow and support the Herb Alpert School of Music.) But he’d rather get out and play
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“I get energy from it,” he says. “We just got off a tour through Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia and Minneapolis and we’re back home now and I kind of miss that energy.”

Alpert tours with a small improvising jazz band — Michael Shapiro (drums), Bill Cantos (keyboards) and Hussain Jiffry (bass) — and has no trouble holding his own, exhibiting a feel for shapely melodies, solid execution and a vintage, airy sound that sometimes recalls midcareer Louis Armstrong.

“Everything is of the moment,” he says, “That’s something I couldn’t do with Tijuana Brass, which was strict.”

Of course, Alpert knows he could never get out the door without a nod to his hits, so the band offers a medley, “pretty much the way people remember them.”

Another plus for Alpert is that he gets to tour with his wife, Hall, who in years past would have been left behind. Hall was the lead singer in Brasil ’66 and sang the theme to the James Bond film, “Never Say Never Again.”

HerbAlpertIntheMoodShe also sings on Alpert’s latest album, “In the Mood,” which mines swing-era hits such as “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “Begin the Beguine” — though not, sadly, the album’s namesake Glenn Miller tune, which the copyright holder would not approve, says Alpert.

Maybe while he’s playing here he’ll figure out a way to make that work, too, the same way he did with “Taste of Honey” so many years ago.

He has that knack.

Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 13-16, at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave., Seattle; $44.50 (206-441-9729 or jazzalley.com).

 

Comments | More in Jazz, Rock/Pop | Topics: "In the Mood", Concert Preview, Dimitriou's Jazz Alley

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