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Herb Alpert Is... A Spoiler-free review

Nathan Strum


I've been a fan of Herb Alpert since I was a kid. We just about wore out the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album playing it every year. Then for some reason, in my early teens, I started really getting into their music. I'm not sure why, other than it was probably because I was getting into collecting records at the time (the Monkees), my folks already had a number of TJB records at home, and I was playing trumpet in band at school. And, well, the music was fun and catchy. It was already at least a dozen years out-of-date by then, but it was so unique, listenable and undeniably happy, myself and a couple of friends really got into it. Non-ironically, too. But I really didn't know anything about Herb or the TJB. In fact, when I went to ask our high school band director if we could play some Herb Alpert music, he said, "We already are." Little did I know, Herb had just had a massive hit with the #1 song Rise, and we were playing 1980 - the opening track on that album (you should be able to guess the year this all happened ;)). I don't think Rise ever got any play on the radio station I was listening to at the time, which was AM top 40. I certainly don't remember hearing it before getting the album.



(If Rise sounds familiar to you young 'uns out there, this was sampled by Biggie Smalls and became a hit all over again, generating even more royalties for Herb. Nice work if you can get it.)


But at that point I started following Herb as a solo artist, and each new album was...


Well, hang on. I've already written this somewhere. Let me find it.


It's here somewhere...


It's really too bad Categories don't exist in the blogs here anymore. It would make this a lot easier.


Gimme a minute...


Okay, here we go.


So I've written about Herb's solo career here: https://atariage.com/forums/blogs/entry/1311-time-marches-on/?tab=comments#comment-2826

And here: https://atariage.com/forums/blogs/entry/6419-mutton-beef-and-trout/

And here: https://atariage.com/forums/blogs/entry/8097-new-old-music-part-4/

And here: https://atariage.com/forums/blogs/entry/13004-new-old-music-parts-8-9-10/

And here: https://atariage.com/forums/blogs/entry/15180-new-old-music-parts-13-14-15/


And even then, there have been two more albums released since then that I haven't reviewed yet.


The point is he's recorded a lot of music. Not counting Greatest Hits compilations, I have 47 of his albums (which are all of the ones I'm aware of), 30 of which were recorded after he disbanded the TJB. And he's continually changing what he's doing. He never stands still, and rarely does the same thing twice. Always exploring. Following his instincts. Creating what sounds good to him, not necessarily what he thinks will be a hit.


Plus, Herb's a painter. And a sculpter. And a very wealthy philanthropist. You see, the TJB earned him a lot of money. He sold over 72 million records. That includes 15 gold records, 14 platinum records, several #1's, and 9 Grammy awards.


He was also the "A" in A&M Records. He and co-founder Jerry Moss sold that to PolyGram in 1990 for $500 million. Not bad for a couple of guys who started in a garage with a tape recorder.


So, from this unassuming trumpet player playing "happy music", to a multimillionaire industry giant, to a remarkably humble artist and generous philanthropist. This is all stuff that I learned over many years of following him, reading articles here and there, and of course piecing things together on the internet.


Now of course, you can look up a lot of this on Herb's website or Wikipedia. One-stop shopping.


But that doesn't really show you who Herb Alpert is.


(How's that for a segue? Even after months off, you're still getting the same quality writing you've come to expect from my blog! Note that I didn't say "good" quality. Just "same" quality.)


But this new documentary does. Herb Alpert Is... was originally intended for a theatrical release, but the Coronavirus pretty-much took care of that. But you can get it on various streaming platforms. In my case, I bought it on iTunes.


Even though I knew much of the information factually, when you can see and hear Herb talk about his career, and watch vintage performances, hear first-hand accounts and interviews, it becomes a far more engaging and engrossing story.


More than half of the documentary focuses on Herb's early career and years with the TJB and A&M. Of course, that's where people know him from. It largely skims over his solo years, stopping briefly to focus on some work he did with Hugh Masekela, the recording of Rise, and his collaboration with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, but it doesn't really do a thorough job of showing how much music he's recorded as a solo artist. That said, this is more of a biography than a discography, and it does show who Herb Alpert is... as a person, an artist, and how he's arrived at who he is now: a vibrant, passionate, committed husband, artist, philanthropist and musician. At the age of 85.


There are a few fun facts it would've been nice for them to touch on - Herb playing at the Super Bowl, or being an extra in The Ten Commandments, but it still covers a remarkable amount of ground. For my money, it could've easily gone another 30 minutes. I would've loved to have heard more about his creative process with the TJB and his solo career. Maybe they'll release some bonus footage or an extended cut someday. Still, it's a compelling and inspiring story. It's positive and uplifting. And the music is still happy. Right now, we could use pretty-much all of that.


Herb Alpert Is... a 9/10.


(There's also a BBC documentary from ten years ago, which covers much of the same ground. It's only an hour long, and the approach is more factual and less personal, but it's still very good.)

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