It's been 52 years since trumpeter Herb Alpert first blew into the American psyche with his distinctive Tijuana Brass sound on "The Lonely Bull." Nine Grammys later, Alpert, now 79, has just released his latest album, "In the Mood." Not an "Ole" is to be heard on the 14-track effort, nor is a "whipped cream"-covered Dolores Erickson to be found on the CD's cover. The mostly instrumental album features standards and originals, with some vocals by his wife, Lani Hall, of Sérgio Mendes & Brasil '66 fame. The duo will be performing Sunday at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts.
The A&M Records co-founder talks about his latest album, how he thinks his sound broke through and why for some the cover of "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" might be more memorable than his music is.
"In the Mood" is musically diverse. Why did you include "America the Beautiful?"
That's really an interesting one because my drummer Michael Shapiro got the idea of getting percussion instruments from the seven different continents of this world, which represents the melting pot that this country is.
I am curious about why you chose to do "Chattanooga Choo Choo."
I always love melodies. I have a backlog of lots of melodies in my head because before A&M Records and before the Tijuana Brass, I used to play weddings and parties with small groups and I have about 1,000 songs in my head that I can play. Every now and then a song pops up in my memory bank for whatever reason. But I was aware of "Chatanooga Choo Choo" because of Glenn Miller. He had that big record in 1941, and obviously I was only 6 years old then. It's just one of those melodies where I thought, Well, if I can do something interesting with it, it might be fun to try.
You've talked a lot about the impact of taking up the trumpet at 8 years old, and you seem to enjoy playing it as much as you did in those years. Why do you enjoy playing as much as you do?
That instrument has been so good to me. I play it every day and it's not something I need to do. It feeds me. . . . A friend of mine was Dizzy Gillespie, and Dizzy used to say, "The closer I get, the farther it looks." That's how it is when you're a musician. You practice, you do your thing, but there's always something more to learn. It's a pursuit, not of perfection, but a pursuit of getting better inch by inch and pebble by pebble.
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You have raised more than $100 million for art education. You once said, "The best chance we have of creating responsible and productive children is through the arts." What did you mean when you said that?
You can be in any part of this world and be with a group of musicians from wherever they happen to be and you say, Let's play the blues, and everybody knows what you're talking about. They might indicate what key they want to play it in but everybody knows what that blues is -- the 12-bar blues. It's a unifier. It's something that brings people together -- for kids especially, if they have that experience at an early age, they get to recognize it."
Why do you think the Tijuana Brass sound caught on in that era? How did you see it fitting into the pop music landscape of the time, which was dominated by rock groups and Motown?
I think it's all timing. You got to be in the right place at the right time. I had the right song at the right place, and the record was good.
Why do you think the album cover of "Whipped Cream & Other Delights" has become so iconic?
It was a sexy cover and the girl was beautiful. It was mysterious because you didn't know if she was wearing something under the supposed whipped cream although it was really shaving cream. I think that thing that gives that animal sex appeal is not that thing that's real obvious. It's that thing that's not obvious where your fantasy takes over. I think men gravitated toward that. I think they brought in so much that wasn't happening in that picture. She was three months pregnant.
To some, you and your music represent a more elegant moment in our culture, especially the years with Tijuana Brass. Would you agree with that?
I never think about that because I've been asked questions that are quite opposite of that -- "Some people think your music is cheesy . . . "
What do you enjoy most about collaborating musically with Ms. Hall?
She's a world class singer. She has great taste. She is very sensitive. She's my best friend. We make good music on many levels together.
WHAT Evening with Herb Alpert & Lani Hall
WHEN WHERE 7 p.m. Sunday at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, 71 E. Main St., Patchogue
INFO $38 to $68; 631-207-1313, patchoguetheatre.com