The Tijuana Brass Era

Back in the late 1950’s through the early 1960’s, Herb Alpert tried his hand at recording and writing songs, including a couple of vocal efforts under the name of Dore Alpert. Becoming frustrated with the lack of a big hit and the tendency for the record labels he recorded for to go out of business, he recorded an instrumental composition called "Twinkle Star", written by friend Sol Lake. Being deeply affected (one could say "romanced") by a bullfight he attended in Tijuana, he added bullfight sound effects to the song that would become "The Lonely Bull". In order to release his new creation, Alpert and his partner Jerry Moss formed a record label called Carnival Records. They soon discovered that the name Carnival Records was already in use, so they needed another name for their new venture. Using the initials of their last names, A&M records was formed. Recorded in Alpert’s garage on a shoestring budget, "The Lonely Bull" went on to become a Billboard Top 10 hit, peaking at #6 on the charts in 1962.

The TJB Are Comin'!While his second album could have launched him into relative obscurity, it was the song "Mexican Shuffle", a background for a commercial, that proved to the public that Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass were no fluke. Upon the release of his fourth album Whipped Cream & Other Delights, featuring the knock out arrangement of "A Taste Of Honey", Alpert finally received major nationwide success. After the Whipped Cream album, the success of the Tijuana Brass would snowball to the point where the group would place a record-breaking five albums in the top twenty, and would be the fourth largest album selling artist of the sixties, behind only Elvis, The Beatles and Sinatra. And although Herb Alpert is best known as a trumpet player, his first Billboard Number One honor would come with a Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition, "This Guy’s In Love With You", which he sang in his CBS television special.

Today, Herb Alpert’s legion of fans is constantly growing, including new converts in Europe and Japan. Having sold A&M records a few years ago for almost a half billion dollars, Alpert and Moss have started another label called Almo Sounds. And Herb Alpert is still a recording artist in his own right, working on a new album in the studio as this is being written (March, 1996).

Beside Alpert’s trumpet playing and singing, he has a keen ear for new and different sounds. His fans not only appreciate his own compositions, they appreciate his unique arrangements of popular songs. "A Taste Of Honey" is one of his finest arrangements, and he’s also arranged songs from Broadway ("Mame"), jazz ("The Work Song"), popular music (a variety of Beatles songs, for example), and other songs pulled from sources as diverse as Top 40 to classical. His organization was also blessed with the songwriting talents of other A&M cohorts such as Julius Wechter, John Pisano, and Ervan "Bud" Coleman, among others.

Personnel listings on Tijuana Brass albums are few and far between. The earliest albums were mainly studio creations using session musicians. (Julius Wechter recalls being paid $15 for his contribution to The Lonely Bull, and long-time member Bob Edmondson was there for the first album as well.) The TJB would appear in public for the first time at a concert at the Crescendo in Los Angeles, CA. By the time the group started touring full time, a permanent road-ready TJB was required.

Throughout most of the TJB era (back from the !!Going Places!! era until the group dissolved after the Summertime album), personnel in the TJB would be:

  • Herb Alpert: Trumpet, Vocals
  • Tonni Kalash: Trumpet ("When Herb gathered the permanent TJB in 1965, Tonni was his first choice to join him on the intricate, crucial work.")
  • Bob Edmondson: Trombone ("…was on the very first, "Lonely Bull" recording date and on all others since.")
  • Lou Pagani: Piano ("…the most recent member of the group.")
  • John Pisano: Guitar ("…first joined the Tijuana Brass for the recording session that produced the Whipped Cream & Other Delights album, then became a permanent member of the group.")
  • Nick Ceroli: Drums ("…joined the Brass for that first personal appearance at the Crescendo in June of 1963, and was a natural choice when the full-time organization was created in 1965.")
  • Pat Senatore: Bass Guitar ("…joined the Tijuana Brass for a Crescendo date in June of 1963.")
  • and Julius Wechter (unbilled; likely appeared in most studio sessions): Marimbas and Percussion

(Quotes above taken from the "Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass Tour Book", 1966.)

When Alpert formed a new Tijuana Brass in the 1970’s, the group would include a handful of alumni and some new TJB members. (These are listed with the album information below, starting with You Smile–The Song Begins.) When Alpert banded together a second reunion edition in 1984 for the Bullish album, the touring TJB included the following members (which differed from the album musicians):

  • Herb Alpert: Trumpet
  • Nick Ceroli: Drums
  • Bob Edmondson: Trombone
  • Bob Findley: Trumpet
  • Jimmy Imperial: Guitar
  • Ken Kaplan: Trumpet
  • Sal Macaluso: Piano
  • John Patittucci: Bass
  • John Pisano: Guitar
  • Julius Wechter: Marimba/Percussion

The Solo Era

After the second iteration of the Tijuana Brass dissolved following the Coney Island album and tour, the album Just You and Me was released as the first Herb Alpert solo album. It signified a major break away from his previous albums. All of the songs, except for “Yankee Doodle”, were composed by Alpert, who also arranged and produced the project. It was his darkest album until that point–the songs were written mostly in minor keys and featured shifting time signatures. Not exactly jazz, but it was a lot more “open” than what Herb would have accomplished with another TJB album. In fact, the very climate of Coney Island, with some of its longer tracks (like “Vento Bravo”) allowed room for more stretching and soloing than what you’d find in a typical Tijuana Brass album. No doubt the dissolution of the Brass would be inevitable.

Herb Alpert in Montreal, ©1997 Stephen SidorukOn albums that followed, Herb Alpert would begin a pattern of changing his style with each new album. After Just You and Me would come two musically successful African-styled jazz albums with African trumpet maestro Hugh Masekela. He would then explore funk and disco with the best-selling Rise album, following that up with a couple of nice jazz/R&B/instrumental albums that gave Herb’s familiar trumpet sound a contemporary background. Fandango would recall a lot of the Mexican and Latin strengths Alpert obtained with the Brass, and yet employ a sound that would not be out of place in Latin Contemporary formats.

With the smash success of Janet Jackson’s Control album, Herb would tap the talents of Minneapolis production crew Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to craft four knockout tracks on Keep Your Eye On Me, giving Alpert a Top 5 hit with “Diamonds”. The following album was a 180-degree turnabout. Under A Spanish Moon was an orchestral-based album. Following that was the big-band-tinged My Abstract Heart, and another complete turnaround with the street/hip-hop North on South St.. Alpert’s swan song on his own label, A&M, would be marked with the late-night jazz album Midnight Sun.

A new era dawned when A&M was sold to Polygram. Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss started a new “botique” record label, Almo Sounds, which started off on the right foot by having one of its artists, the alternative rock band Garbage (a conglomerate of veteran alternative rock producers including Nirvana producer Butch Vig), make major waves on radio and in the record stores. Sounding newly refreshed, Herb soon recorded Second Wind with jazz producer Jeff Lorber at the helm and embarked on a small world tour. The second installment on Almo Sounds is Herb’s Passion Dance album, which travels down an authentic Latin salsa route, with a slight nod to the TJB fans of yesteryear.

So, what does this mean for the future of the Tijuana Brass? As Herb Alpert has alluded to in various interviews over the years, he has no interest in reviving the Tijuana Brass at any time in the near future. It would be neat to have another reunion album and tour, as this is what many fans have wished for over the years, especially younger listeners who never had the chance to witness the Brass firsthand while they were still together. As his solo recordings demonstrate, he has expanded greatly beyond the confines of the Brass, and we eagerly await his next musical endeavor. Here at A&M Corner, we salute Herb Alpert and all that he has accomplished!