by Ron Fassler
My teenage years as a kid on Long Island, revolved around summers by the pool or at the ocean listening to songs on the radio. Yes, radio. This was when transistors were the thing, even before a boom box, and long before the Walkman and today’s devices that make choosing your own music so simple and easy. In the 1960s, disc jockeys were in charge of what you heard, and in those days, you couldn’t escape the sounds of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. At one point in 1966, with four albums in the Top 10, Alpert and his band outsold the Beatles in the U.S., aided by such hits as “Taste of Honey,” “What Now My Love,” “The Lonely Bull” and “Spanish Flea.” Alpert has won nine Grammy Awards and countless other honors, not only for his music, but for his philanthropy.
Alpert (with co-founder Jerry Moss) was the A of A&M Records, the largest independent record company in the world, responsible over the years for producing some of the greatest artists and biggest hits. Discovering many singers and groups, Alpert would probably be hard pressed not to name Sergio Mendes and the Brazil ’66 as his favorite, due to it featuring Lani Hall as the band’s lead vocalist, who became Alpert’s wife in 1973. The two have now been making beautiful music together for the past forty-five years.
Their new show at the Café Carlyle proved a nostalgic throwback to songs that certainly embodied the soundtrack of the lives of many in the sold-out audience opening night (including myself). Self-effacing and genuinely modest, Alpert offered no apologies for playing from what some might consider a dated set list (“A good song is a good song,” he wisely noted). A trumpet virtuoso, he first picked up the instrument at eight years old, and has seemingly not put it down for the past seventy-five years. And with aspirations that led him to branch out from the clubs and recording studios where he first started, Alpert has piled up a prodigious output as a record producer, painter and sculpturer, and as previously mentioned, a renowned philanthropist, which have all contributed to his reputation as a Renaissance Man. In her own right, Lani Hall is a Grammy winning artist, and though born in Chicago, has recorded several successful Latin pop albums in Spanish. Packed onto the tiny stage of the Carlyle, along with an immensely talented band that the duo has been performing with for the past twelve years, made for some sensational music.
Highlights included signature Alpert renditions of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “What Now, My Love” and “This Guy’s in Love with You” (which he had everyone in the audience sing along with), as well as excellent arrangements of such standards as diverse as Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” The latter, a hit single recorded by the band in 2013, has a fun-filled video that played on the Carlyle’s two TV screens behind Alpert while he performed it live on stage, that was a genuine treat (you can view the video here at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rm4DJxrjNqkhere).
With Bill Cantos on piano, Hussain Jiffry on bass and Michael Shapiro on drums, Alpert and Hall are making the Carlyle a hopping place this week. Alpert’s abilities to still interpret a melody through his radiant trumpet playing, accompanied by Hall’s elegant song-styling is a show that deserves to run forever. To see them on stage, aglow in appreciation of their music—and each other—is a beautiful thing to see (and listen to).
Photos: David Andrako
Herb Alpert & Lani Hall – Cafe Carlyle, 35 East 76 Street (Madison Ave.) NYC Performances October 9th-13th.