Herb Alpert: “Jazz is All About Freedom and Points the Way”: Photos, Video

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Iconic trumpeter, A&M Records co-founder, painter, sculptor, philanthropist and past recipient of WBGO’s Champions of Jazz Gala Award continues to give back during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to WBGO’s News Director Doug Doyle from his California home, Alpert talked about jazz, his foundation, the renovation of the Harlem School of the Arts and the 26th annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts recipients.

Alpert says he and his wife Grammy-award-winning vocalist Lani Hall had to postpone their extensive tour schedule because of the pandemic.  They haven’t ventured out past his property for quite some time.

“You know I’m in that category where they scare you to death.  If you’re over 80 watch out, if it gets you, you’re a goner.  I’m afraid to go out of the house.  I’m a lucky guy, married to an angel and my life has been a charmed life.  I feel a little guilty. I’m doing what I would be doing last year at this time when nothing was going on with this virus.  So here I am painting, sculpting, making music and being an introvert.  I’m fine doing that.  I’m in heaven.  I can do my stuff.  There are a lot of people out there that don’t have that same situation.  I feel sorry for the jam, the mess we’re into right now.  I hope it resolves nicely. It’s a very frightening time for everybody.  I think we’re all wondering what the heck is going to happen in the futue.  It’s hard to predict what happens next month, next year or next week.  We’re just kind of hoping for the best.”

Herb Alpert says he’s stayed at home during the coronavirus virus and calls it a very frightening time

Earlier this month, The Herb Alpert Foundation and the California Institute of the Arts held its 26th annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts in the categories of Dance, Film/Video, Music. Theatre and Visual Arts.  Five unrestricted $75,000 grants were presented to exceptional mid-career artists.  The recipients were honored during a vitual ceremony hosted by Alpert and his wife on Friday, May 22.

“It turns out there were hundreds of people watching this ceremony.  It was very real.  The artists that won the awards were chiming in with sensitive and beautiful stories.  You know there’s something about when you’re in a room, a chat room or a zoom room with people that are artists or respecting the arts there’s a different energy.”

The 2020 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts recipients are Karen Sherman – Dance,  Sky Hopinka – Film/Video, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Music, Phil Soltanoff – Theatre and Firelei Baez -Visual Arts.

“I’ve always loved the artists that travel the road less traveled, those are the artists that touch me.”

Trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is the nephew of legenadary jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison.

“He had a really interesting horn, kind of a take-off of Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet.  It’s beautiful.  He’s a sensitive, wonderful giving musician.”

Alpert, who stressed he is not involved in the selection of the winners of the highly competitive awards, was asked about  his thoughts on jazz.

“I think music in general is the heartbeat and soul of our country and I think we need that.  Jazz is about freedom.  I think what’s the interesting part of these five art forms are that they’re all the same for the most part.  It’s all about freedom of expression and imagination and being totally honest with what you say or do and we need more of that.  I think that’s why jazz kind of points the way.  I think we’re all looking for freedom in the United States and around the world.  It’s the one thread that binds us all.”

When the creative trumpeter became a sensation in the 1960’s with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, he decided he wanted to make visual music.  He wants to make music that takes you someplace.

“I think all they really good artists that appealed to me through the years, let’s talk about jazz.  Miles Davis had that ability.  That Kind of Blue album that still sells to this day and the enormous amount of records that were sold, he was a major jazz artist, but he touched, he had something.  He knew a good song.  He knew who to present it.  He understood the art form probably better than most other great jazz musicians.”

What does Herb Alpert think about when he playing his trumpet on his upcoming album.

“I think about all the people I’ve spoken to, all the great jazz musicians I’ve run across.  Stan Getz was a dear friend of mine.  He was like my brother for the last four years of his life.  I’d ask Stan that question.  He always told me if you’re playing a great song make sure you do justice to the melody of the song.  And before you start improvising and turning it into something that it didn’t want to be.”

Interior Gallery of the Harlem School of the Arts, part of the 9.5 million dollar renovation of the culture center
Alpert, 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and nine-time Grammy Award winner, came to the rescue when the Harlem School of the Arts was in desperate need of funds to survive.  The result became The Renaissane Project, a 9.5 million dollar renovation of the school.  Alpert says the project’s completion has been pushed back because of the coronavirus crisis, but he anticipates the groundbreaking will now take place in the spring of 2021.

“We just felt it needed to be upgraded.  I got involved in 2010.  I saw this article in the paper that it was about to close.  They were out of funds and they were not being supported.”

With the 2020 tour of hold because of the pandemic, Alpert has been painting and sculpting at an elevated pace.  He says he can barely move in his arts studio because there are so many paintings.  One of his works, a painting, has been inspired by the current situation.  He calls it Corona City.

Herb Alpert and his wife Lani Hall have been married for 45 years

“My wife was not crazy about that title, but when it came out that’s what it looked like to me.  It’s in the abstract.  It looks like city but not a city you could every recognize.  This is one of the things I like about the mystery of art, you really can’t indentify it.  There’s no way to actually put words on something that you feel.”

Did the musician and composer know he had the ability to create art before he picked up the trumpet?

“I didn’t.  Little by little I started making sense out of the trumpet and people were responding to the way I was playing.  That’s the first time I got a glimpse that maybe I’m okay.  I had this wonderful Russian teacher who was the 1st player with the San Francisco Symphony.  One lesson I was 12 or 13 years old.  I played this tune and when finished and he had tears running down his cheek.  He said ‘that was beautiful’.  This was a guy who really didn’ show his emotions.  So I felt like maybe I do have something”

Alpert would then go onto make his first album that he released on A&M Records called The Lonely Bull in 1962.  In all, Alpert has 15 Gold Albums, 14 Platinum albums and over 72 million records sold.

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