Herb Alpert: In the Mood for Excellence

Nicholas F. Mondello BY

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While he has been bestowed endless awards—nine Grammys, a presidential Medal of the Arts, enshrined in the Rock Hall of Fame—and has sold over 72 million records, Herb Alpert is a trumpet player at heart and an artist in his soul. What emanates from that trumpet and its player's mind is pure creative expression. And, in addition to the love of his life, the incredibly talented vocalist/author Lani Hall, Herb Alpert is deeply enamored with melody and with the Muse that calls to him for his boundless artistic creativity. Alpert's most recent offering, In the Mood is a neat pop jazz collection of re-invigorated GAS workhorses and groove-diverse originals, all performed with Alpert's legendary blend of fine trumpeting, brilliant musical support and impeccable production values. We spoke with him as he, Lani and his musicians prepare to set off on an 11-city tour, including a two-week kickoff at New York's chic Café Carlyle and a week in Tokyo.

All About Jazz: Herb, thanks for taking time to speak with us. Please allow me to begin by saying that as a trumpet player myself, I think you sounded great on this new album, In the Mood.

Herb Alpert: Thanks, Nick. I appreciate that.

AAJ: Can you tell me about the genesis of In the Mood?

HA: Well, I love melody and wanted to take a different look at some of the standards on the recording. And, present some original collaborations, too.

AAJ: There's a fair amount of rhythmic diversity—different colorings, textures and grooves on it from soft Latin/Bossa to Hip-Hop, etc. It all makes for very interesting listening.

HA: Well, I don't analyze things too much. I am just having fun playing melodies.

AAJ: And the group with whom you perform?

HA: It's the same group that Lani and I have been playing with for over eight years—Bill Cantos on piano, Hussein Jiffry on bass, and Mike Shapiro on drums. They're all very creative. They'll feed me patterns or ideas and we'll all develop them. It's very open. We communicate artistically very well together. Eduardo del Barrio, Jeff Lorber, Jamieson Trotter, Paul Jackson, Jr., Oliver Schnee, Brad Dutz, Ricardo Hambra and Scott Mayo also appear on the recording.

AAJ: I think that creativity shows in the album. By the way, the opener, "Chattanooga Choo Choo" is a great clip to start things off—that well-known melody over the pulsing electronic rhythm bed.

HA: I have a good feeling about that tune. I did that with my nephew, Randy Badazz Alpert and added strings arranged by Eduardo del Barrio. So there are three musical elements combining on that.

AAJ: And "Blue Moon?"

HA: "Blue Moon" actually developed from a loop that Randy had and played for me. When I heard it, I just started playing the melody to "Blue Moon" over it. It came together from that somewhat randomly.

AAJ: Another classic tune on the session is "When Sunny Gets Blue." It's a great melody.

HA: Yes, it is. I love the lyric where it goes: "When Sunny gets blue, her eyes get gray and cloudy. Then the rain begins to fall..."

AAJ: The original tunes on the album cover diverse grooves. For example, "5 AM." That's a great cut.

HA: The tune starts off in ¾. Hussain Jiffry is actually playing chords on his six-string bass on that. He's originally from Sri Lanka, so he's got that unique rhythmic flair and brings that background to things. Lani sings beautifully here and elsewhere.

AAJ: I see where well-known smooth jazz artist, Jeff Lorber makes a cameo appearance on this album.

HA: Jeff is a fine musician. He and I co-composed "Sneaky" and he plays on that cut. We are close friends. Sometimes, I'll go to his house and we'll work up some things. There's a lot more coming creatively with Jeff and me.

AAJ: There are two tunes presented here that are associated with the Everly Brothers—a very reflective "Let It Be Me" and a slightly re-worked, but very beautiful, rendition of "All I Have to Do Is Dream."

HA: I wanted to pay homage to them with that. Lani and Bill add the voices on "Dream."

AAJ: And the old Ben E. King hit, "Spanish Harlem?" That has some Tijuana Brass channeling with the trumpet "duet" melody.

HA: It's a nice melody.

AAJ: "America the Beautiful" is an interesting closing number—and, a rather unique arrangement.

HA: We used percussion instruments from each of the seven continents to represent the melting pot that is America.

AAJ: Your wife, Lani. She's singing on the album?

HA: Yes, she is. She's singing lead on "Don't Cry" and elsewhere. She also plays percussion. Lani is an incredibly talented artist—a truly great musician and an author, too.

AAJ: I see where she's produced an audio book, Emotional Memories & Short Stories with your music tracks included on it.

HA: She wrote the book about a year ago and just recently recorded the audio book. She narrated the audio book and my group and I provided the accompanying soundtrack. It is a collection of fiction and non-fiction short stories.

AAJ: I know you have a tour coming up—11 cities or so.

HA: Yes, we'll launch the tour March 10th by doing two weeks at the Café Carlyle in New York and head out nationally; then a week in Tokyo, followed by more domestic venues.

AAJ: What else is coming down the road?

HA: Plenty. We also have something planned in June with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in Costa Mesa, California. It's a concept we're exploring—Lani and I using our group along with a symphony orchestra. There's also more In the Mood material coming. You know, we're looking at such standards as "Take the 'A' Train" and other similar selections in addition to more new original material.

AAJ: You know, Herb, your music has influenced many young musicians, especially trumpeters over the years. I think that with work such as this that legacy will continue.

HA: I just have fun playing and want to keep doing it for as long as I can. I still practice every day. I love creating. As you know I've painted and sculpted for 40 years. It's another means of creative expression. I love what I do.

AAJ: I remember when I was studying with Carmine Caruso in New York in the late 60's, you used to call him by phone from L.A. while I was in a lesson with him and he'd listen a little to you—give you some direction.

HA: Carmine was a beautiful man. I had encountered a "snag" in my playing and he helped me out of it.

AAJ: On behalf of myself and many who knew and studied with Carmine, thanks for all you did for him when he was ill—taking him to Los Angeles to recover and more. A lot of folks aren't aware of that.

HA: It was the least I could do for him. He was a great man and teacher.

AAJ: Are you still playing your Schilke?

HA: I now play a German-made Sonare. I have three of them. It has a great sound, similar to the old Benge trumpets.

AAJ: Do you ever play flugelhorn?

HA: I have a few. I also have a "Flumpet," made by Dave Monette. It's a hybrid flugel-trumpet. I prefer playing trumpet.

AAJ: Herb, this has been both a privilege and pleasure. Thank you.

HA: Thank you, Nick.

Photo credit: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall by Gerry Wersh

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