Greetings again from the darkness. Herb Alpert’s music was played frequently in my home as I was growing up, so I became a fan early on. His impact on the music industry seems not to be celebrated or remembered today the way it should, and documentarian John Scheinfeld seeks to change that with this thorough and detailed look at the man and his career. By the time the end credits roll, we are in awe of not just the musical accomplishments, but also the humanity of Herb Alpert.
The film’s opening sequence shows Alpert working the canvas with a brush. For those who know him only as a trumpet player, this might catch you off guard. In fact, Alpert is quite an accomplished abstract painter, sculptor, musician, producer, businessman, and philanthropist. He’s also consistently described as “humble”, “gracious”, and “kind”. Such is the Herb Alpert we come to know during this nearly two hour profile.
An exploration of his life includes a timeline of events accompanied by interviews with those who know him well: songwriter and composer Paul Williams, Sting, QuestLove, Producer Lou Adler, Burt Bachrach, and journalist Bill Moyers. Additionally, we hear directly from Herb (now 85 years old) and his wife of nearly 50 years, singer Lani Hall. In fact, Ms. Hall-Alpert serves up one of the most insightful descriptions of her husband when she says, “He doesn’t work creatively. He lives creatively.”
Alpert was a working musician from an early age, and things really took off for him after he and Jerry Moss co-founded A&M Records (Alpert & Moss) in 1962. He explains his approach as a record label executive: he listens with his soul, and the music must touch him. That approach made A&M hugely successful, signing such popular and talented acts as Cat Stevens, Carole King, The Carpenters, Peter Frampton, Quincy Jones, Janet Jackson, and The Police, among others.
Beyond that gut instinct, Alpert’s career as a musician was remarkable. He won 9 Grammy’s, had 15 Gold and 14 Platinum albums, and sold over 72 million records. We learn that his Tijuana Brass band outsold the Beatles two to one in 1966, and of course we get to hear such megahits as “The Lonely Bull” (1962), “A Taste of Honey” (1965), “Tijuana Taxi” (1965), “This Guy’s in Love with You” (1968), and “Rise” (1979). We see clips of the band on The Andy Williams Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, as well as some of their early music videos.
Director Scheinfeld has made a nice career of profiling talented folks like: John Coltrane, Harry Nilsson, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Bette Midler, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and the Marx Brothers. However, I’m not sure any of his subjects have had the many talents and passions of Herb Alpert. We learn of his commitment to making a positive impact on the world each and every day, and his work as a philanthropist includes resurrecting the Harlem School of Arts, and inspiring those students to reach new heights.
The sale of A&M Records in 1990 to Polygram for $500 million combined with his successful music career has allowed Alpert to continue with his philanthropic pursuits, yet he remains one of the most humble superstars you’ll ever find. In an early sequence, he jokes about sneaking maple syrup into his oatmeal – he says it’s “cheating” his strict diet. We see some early home movies, and Alpert revisits both his childhood school and home, which contrasts with his own show at an elite art gallery. Alpert recounts stories involving Sonny Bono and the great Sam Cooke, and goes back to the old campus of A&M Records (once a movie studio where Charlie Chaplin worked), now the home for the Jim Henson Company.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning (and thanking) Herb Alpert for the greatest album cover of all time: “Whipped Cream and Other Delights”, a visual favorite of so many throughout the years. Herb Alpert had his music played by the Apollo VIII crew, and he recalls with pride that the great Miles Davis once remarked, “You hear 3 notes and you know it’s Herb Alpert.” Despite all the brilliance he’s displayed in his life, Herb is noted for always being “humble and gracious” … and he’s still “the coolest guy in the room”. Not many can supply the soundtrack to their own life story! The film ends with Alpert himself saying he is “very grateful”, and we can only hope he knows that we are the grateful ones.
In theaters and VOD October 2, 2020