Illustration by Leif Parsons
My way-overdue introduction to Herb Alpert came a few years ago, at downtown’s REDCAT. Alpert walked onstage with his wife, singer Lani Hall. Even before he put his trumpet to his lips and Hall sang her first syllable, I knew I was watching the hippest couple I’ll probably ever see in my life. Alpert was 73 then, slender and film-star handsome. He let his horn do most of the talking, and much of the conversation was directed at Hall—his playing was intimate, full of familiarity and passion. Hall, for her part, seemed to be singing her sultry bossa nova as much for her husband’s pleasure as for ours (there was a good deal of hip swaying). Dang, I thought, they still have sizzle.
Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass broke up the year I was born, so forgive me for not swinging to Alpert’s cross-cultural cool earlier. I do remember the group’s poppy tunes setting the mood when contestants waltzed onto The Dating Game. And my love of estate sales taught me that it’s possible to pick up a copy of Whipped Cream & Other Delights for 50 cents any weekend across L.A. His tastes have influenced some of my listening habits. At A&M Records, which he cofounded, he discovered the Carpenters (thanks, Herb!). After disbanding the Brass, Alpert didn’t record another album until Rise, which brought some funk (watch the title song’s video on YouTube) to his body of work. Among the many splendid things about Alpert—pardon me for gushing—is that in the peace and love generation, he was one of the few major recording artists making music for men and women over 30. (You remember them—those people you never were supposed to trust?) He was an adult artist with an adult audience. He wasn’t romping around in spandex trying to act a third his age. Imagine that.
In the May issue contributing writer Steve Oney offers a portrait of Alpert as a contemporary force in sculpture, painting, and, of course, music. He can’t stop creating, something I find inspiring. Artists like him could be doing little more than counting their cash and resting on their laurels. He is also one of Los Angeles’s most unsung philanthropists, investing many of the millions he made from his albums and his sale of A&M Records to keep young creativity alive. With the state budget ax mercilessly whacking away at arts funding, we need about, oh, 10,000 more millionaires like him. They don’t all have to be sexy in their seventies (though we wouldn’t mind). Sorry, but is it getting hot in here?