Herb Alpert Tries a Taste of Symphonic Music (1988)

Friday, July 1, 1988
By Richard Warner
Special to the Journal/Constitution

There were “A Taste of Honey,” “Spanish Flea,” “The Lonely Bull,” and most recently, “This Guy’s in Love with You,” which was the number one song in America 20 years ago this week. With songs such as those and sales of millions of albums, Herb Alpert’s music has very much been a part of our lives.

But when Alpert takes the stage Saturday night at Chastain park to perform with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, it will mark the first time in his career that he has performed in public with a symphony orchestra.

Alpert and a seven-piece band of “extraordinary young musicians who love to make music and are willing to explore” will perform on the first stop of this first stop of a nine-city concert tour that launches his 27th album, “Under a Spanish Moon.”

“I’ve heard rave reviews about the Atlanta symphony from some friends of mine, Burt Bacharach and Sergio Mendes, says Alpert during a telephone interview from his Los Angeles office. “This is something new and exciting for me. I personally get bored with the beat of the week. If you try to play the same thing over and over and sideways, there’s no challenge and no creativity. It just becomes like making buttons.”

The set will include “Under a Spanish Moon,” an eclectic Latin-flavored suite for trumpet and orchestra composed by Jorge del Barrio, an Argentinian known in Hollywood for ghost-writing movie scores.

Also on tape at Chastain Park: a medley of hits from Alpert’s days with the Tijuana Brass, plus full versions of “A Taste of Honey” and “Rise.” His most recent hits, the soul-oriented “Keep Your Eye on Me” in 1987, went multi-platinum, but he won’t perform selections from that. “It just doesn’t work in a symphonic setting.”

At 53, Alpert is pursuing a wide-ranging career as a musician, record producer and president of A&M Records, founded with partner Jerry Moss in 1962. A&M remains the world’s largest independent record company, with a roster that includes Bryan Adams, Sting and Janet Jackson.

The company began with a $1,000 investment in the garage of Alpert’s small West Hollywood home. “I go by that house on occasion,” he says. “Oddly enough, it still belongs to my ex-wife’s sister.

Growing by leaps and bounds in the mid-‘60s, A&M took over the studios once owned by Charlie Chaplain and launches artists such as the Carpenters, Gino Vannelli and Sergio Mendes. During the late ‘70s, A&M went into a steep decline because of distribution problems.

“We had some loose cannons on the ship and we were sinking fast,” Alpert says. “We got some interesting offers and considered selling out several times. But Jerry and I respect each other. We’re sensitive to each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Alpert says money has never been A&M’s bottom line. “We always felt if we had something special and treated people fairly, it would come back to us. We could smile and sleep well at night, and we’d be very successful. That’s what happened. Now is the most extraordinary period in our history.”

“I know the strength of our company is that we’re independently owned — it’s just the two of us. We can make quick decisions without getting bogged down in a boardroom.”

Among the A&M artists Alpert believes have staying power to last into the 1990s are singers Brends Russell and Toni Childs.

It’s at this point in his career that Herb Alpert is thinking about his legacy. Under construction on the University of Southern California campus is a $2.5 million recital hall, a gift from Alpert and his wife, singer Lani Hall. “It will seat a thousand people and accommodate a guitar player, jazz combo or maybe a string quartet. And acoustically, it will be a wonderful place.”

The project resulted not from a sense of dedication to his alma mater, but rather “an obligation we all have to recycle our good tidings. I’m doing it because it feels right.”

In his 30-year career, Alpert holds the Billboard magazine record for the most albums in the Top 20 at one time. He has performed for presidents and royalty, opened the ’88 Super Bowl and even played kettle drums for the movie “The Ten Commandments” (after Moses comes down from Mount Sinai). “But I don’t dwell on all that,” he says. “I mean the awards and the pats on the back are great. But I’m always looking for the next frame…the new tapestry to play in front of.”

(c)1988, 2002 Richard Warner