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Living Legends: Herb Alpert Delights In Artistic Freedom & Not Having A Backup Plan
Herb Alpert

Photo: Dewey Nicks

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Living Legends: Herb Alpert Delights In Artistic Freedom & Not Having A Backup Plan

Trumpeter and A&M Records founder Herb Alpert discusses his most recent album, 'Sunny Side of the Street,'' how he approaches painting, and how art should "grab you."

GRAMMYs/Nov 8, 2022 - 05:23 pm

Presented by GRAMMY.com, Living Legends is an editorial series that honors icons in music and celebrates their inimitable legacies and ongoing impact on culture. GRAMMY.com recently caught up with multi-GRAMMY Award winner Herb Alpert, whose work as a bandleader and label head have put him at the forefront of jazz and instrumental music for decades.

Herb Alpert is the "A" in A&M Records (along with "M" Jerry Moss), the legendary label that was home to the Police, Cat Stevens, Quincy Jones and Alpert’s own prolific recording career as a songwriter, trumpet player and leader of the Tijuana Brass.

A towering list of accolades — 14 platinum records, nine GRAMMY Awards, a 2012 National Medal of Arts award from President Obama, for starters — don’t necessarily hint at the equitable and unpretentious man behind the music.

"I'm making music for myself. And when I feel good playing it, it gives me energy, I feel great about it," the 87-year-old trumpet player tells GRAMMY.com. "If someone else happens to like it, it's a big win for me."

Alpert's songs — including "This Guy’s In Love With You" (his vocal debut and a No. 1 hit), "A Taste of Honey," "Spanish Flea" and "Ladyfingers" — are woven into the fabric of society, helping Alpert sell more than 70 million records (numerous Tijuana Brass songs were used as theme music for the ABC TV show "The Dating Game!").

His 1965 album Whipped Cream & Other Delights remains a staple in millions of homes, thanks in part to a comely model "dressed" in whipped cream on the cover. Releasing more than 40 albums since 1962, including the No. 1 charting gold-sellers Whipped Cream…, Going Places, What Now My Love, Sounds Like...and The Beat of the Brass, could easily allow the prolific trumpet player and businessman to rest on his considerable laurels.

However, Alpert’s creativity and philanthropy continues unabated. His generous support has allowed students at UCLA, CalArts and the Harlem School of the Arts to follow their love of music. The artist’s own verve and pursuit of personal creative satisfaction continues to drive him daily, whether he’s painting, sculpting or making music.

Alpert spoke to GRAMMY.com from his California home studio, discussing his most recent album, Sunny Side of the Street, how he approaches cover songs, painting and sculpture, along with opinions about how music and art should "grab you."

Nice to see you, thanks to the magic of technology!

Well, it's great when you have a 5-year-old around and they can help you! This is a little aside, but I was just totally shocked two weeks ago because somebody on TikTok picked up one of my songs. The song [he hums it] "Ladyfingers," they picked it up, put it in a little vignette video. It went viral on TikTok. It was written by Toots Thielemans from an album that I did 55 years ago, Whipped Cream. So far, and it's almost embarrassing to say this, but it had 100 million streams, this one song. I mean, it's like unheard of!

That number is incomprehensible, isn't it?

I mean, especially for me. I started in this business with a wire recorder. This was before tape recorders! I've never been on TikTok. I don't even know how to get onto it.

Let’s talk about your latest record, Sunny Side Of The Street. I love your take on "Going Out of My Head." I first heard the Zombies' version; what was your goal when you decided to cover it?

Whenever I do a song that's familiar to others, I try to do them in a way that hasn't been done quite that way before. I think this was in the midst of the pandemic and I was isolated in my house. I was thinking most people are going out of their head right now trying to figure out what to do. Wear the mask, don't wear the mask, information was flying by us.

I just started playing this song, then at the end, this end vamp that I do I kind of went a little off on the horn — music from an insane asylum. [Laughs] It's impressionistic is what it is, I wanted it to feel like, yeah, it's possible to go out of your head and still retain some sanity.

The notes I made about the song were "spooky craziness."

I see music as impressions through the horn. That's the way I try to do it. I'm basically a jazz musician, and I don't plan it, I just do it. You know, when it feels good I stop. This is a little strange to say, but I'm not making music for anybody else. I'm making music for myself. And when I feel good playing it, it gives me energy, I feel great about it. If someone else happens to like it, it's a big win for me. But that's not my goal. My goal is to make music that gives me a feeling of satisfaction, that I did something that feels right for me.

In one recent live review, the journalist said something along the lines of "Has any instrumentalist reached such a broad swath of people?" I’d have to say no, and wonder why the popularity of instrumentals waxes and wanes.

Well, there's a period where trumpets were in vogue, after [1962's]  Lonely Bull. Trumpets were on the radio, and then all of a sudden, we got closed out. Even though radio is very slim and there's other ways to expose music, there's certain music that the programmers like and for the most part, it's not instrumental music. So timing does play a huge part in the success that I've had, and I am very grateful for that.

"I'll Remember You" was done by Don Ho, Andy Williams and Elvis Presley… and now you. I feel you must know those three greats.

Well, I know the guy who wrote that song. Kui Lee. Unfortunately, he died when he was about 34. When I played in Hawaii at the HIC with the Tijuana Brass, after the show I went to see Don Ho at the International Marketplace. I had a couple of tropical drinks and I had my horn with me. Don started playing this song and I loved the song, the melody, everything about it. I got up on the stage and started playing that song with Don Ho.

My partner Jerry Moss was with me. It was unfortunate that we didn't have iPhones, so we couldn't record it. But I've always thought about that song. I got a call from Jerry about eight months ago. He says "why don’t you record ‘I'll Remember You?’" I wanted to do it for Jerry, because he was so instrumental in my success as an artist. So I recorded it. All of a sudden, I was getting that feeling of wow, this is good. This is a nice tribute to a wonderful writer" who unfortunately didn't get a chance to realize the success that he had.

I can listen to that [song] for my own pleasure. And what I've learned to do through the years as an artist, is I learned to become an audience to my music. When I do a recording and listen to the playback I'm not listening to the trumpet player; I'm listening to the overall feeling of what it says. I judge it like I'm an innocent bystander. I don't know how all of a sudden this technique got to me, but that's the way I do it.

When recording technology began advancing and digital methods came in, were you an early adopter? Where do you stand on technology?

I like it; in the right hands, it’s great. In 1979, at our A&M Studios, the 3M Company loaned us one of the multitrack machines, a 32-track machine. I wanted to experiment with it to see if it was worthy of buying for A&M. On that session, I did "Rise." Strangely enough, I loved the recording; it was that live in studio. When we were ready to mix, the machine ate the first eight bars! So we had to reproduce that.

It's not the same experience that we had the ‘60s with gathering musicians in a studio and all working something out live. But given that the proper thought is there, you could come up with something…

Well, first of all, look: I think all art, whether it's acting, being a sculptor, painter, musician, poet, it's all about feeling. It's the feel that you get when you listen to something, and the beauty of it is you can't identify what it is that you like about it. The closest I've come is playing with Louis Armstrong one night. And the sound that was coming out of Louis’ trumpet was Louis Armstrong's personality. Period. It was him. It was just the guy I met who was lovely, who was smart, who was creative, and it was right there. That's the goal I think, for all artists, is to find your own voice, your own way of doing it, your own stamp. That's what I believe all artists should be looking for.

Yes, that certain "je ne sais quoi"…

I tell this story of standing in front of a Jackson Pollock painting. I tried to analyze it trying to see what his motivation was. Or, does it fit the title or blah, blah, blah. You won't get it. You have to just let it seep in. And if it grabs you, it'll grab you. If it doesn't grab you, that's the way it goes.

In terms of your own painting and sculpting, how did you begin?

I was traveling around the world with the Tijuana Brass in the ‘60s and used to go to museums. I kept seeing a black painting with a purple dot, or a white painting with a green dot. I'd look at the paintings and say, "why is this hanging in a museum?" I grabbed some canvases when I got home from tour. I started moving colors around with acrylic paint, like a monkey, just kind of pushing it around to see if I could get it into a shape that pleased me.

I got one painting that I thought was really good. I finished it at night, hung it up, and was anxious to see how it looked in the morning. I rushed down to look at the painting and it was almost gone, because I didn't prepare the canvas properly. I’d watered down some of the paint;  you can do that to acrylic paint. And the paint kind of seeped into the canvas, and it all but disappeared. So I started to learn more about how to do it.

I was having an enormous amount of fun painting. Like a kid in a candy shop. I've been doing it for more than 50 years, and had some great success. I’ve had shows in different parts of the world. Sculpting came in about 40 years ago. I’ve got all sorts of great pieces at museums in Chicago [Field Museum], New York, the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville.

Do you listen to music when you paint?

Sometimes, yeah, I like jazz. I think what's so beautiful about being an artist is what it proves to us is that there's beauty and freedom, and we have a freedom in this country that's extraordinary.You can do what you want to do. It might not be what other people particularly like, but it's free. Jazz is about expressing one's own freedom.

We saw the effect it had worldwide when Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington used to go to foreign countries and they were treated like royalty because the people felt that freedom is special. And we don't want to squander it here. The heart and soul of this country is based on music and art. And we have the freedom to do what we want to do as artists.

A lot of your philanthropy involves music education. When you speak to a student or small group, what do they most want to know from you?

They always want to know what the secret of my success was. I'm passionate about what I do. If they're not passionate about wanting to be a musician, forget it, don't do it. Spotify [in particular] gets 100,000 pieces of music each day. Try to break through that maze! That’s crazy. So don't do it because you want to be famous, or you think you're gonna make a lot of money or attract women or men or whatever it is. You gotta do it for the right reasons. There are a lot of great musicians who never get heard. It's rough out there. If you're doing it for the right reasons, always have a backup plan, have something else that you can fall back on in case it doesn't quite work out the way you would like it to.

What was your backup plan? Did you ever have a day job?

No, I never did. I was lucky in high school. We had a little band and I was earning a living starting when I was 16 years old. We were playing for parties and weddings, making enough to survive. My backup plan? Boy, that's a good one. Don't do as I do, do as I say! [Laughs.]

You told me that success is really internal, but is there an award or laurel that means the most to you?

I guess finding Lani [Hall, once the lead singer of A&M group Brasil ’66], my wife, is the biggest reward award I've ever gotten. We've been married 49 years. And that's a key ingredient. I think love is crucial. She's my best friend and I couldn't be happier.

She’s often your musical partner as well.

And we’ve got dates through 2023. We’ve got London; we're playing at the famous Ronnie Scott's place in June ’23, playing there for a week and they're sold out. It’s a great feeling to know that the music I've made through the years touches a lot of people and man, I'm very grateful for that.

Living Legends: Cuban Pianist & Composer Chucho Valdés On Developing "The Creation," Growing Up On The Island & Loving Dizzy Gillespie

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards