Imagine this... two guys have been partners for 50 years in the volatile music business, and until they sold the company in 1989 (for several hundred million dollars!), they didn't even have a written contract between them! Hard to believe, unless you know legendary musician/bandleader Herb Alpert and music master-promoter Jerry Moss. Then you would understand... these guys, who founded A&M Records 50 years ago, are truly exceptional in so many respects. Cool, collected, honest and, yes, tough... and did I mention exceptional talents? Herb, of course, is the brilliant trumpet player who took the Tijuana Brass to the heights of stardom with the help of Jerry's promotional efforts. As I write this, I am listening to the A&M Anniversary Collection, a 60-song three CD set featuring many of the biggest superstars in music whom they recorded... The Carpenters, Cat Stevens, Styx, Bert Bachrach, The Police, Janet Jackson, Sting... so and many more. As Herb told me, "We were an artist-friendly label, so we stood behind the artists we believed in until they found their voice and an audience." I recall Sting was once quoted as saying, We definitely felt nourished and sustained by this creative team."
The Clive J. Davis Theatre at downtown's Grammy Museum is a 226-seat gem in the the L.A. Live arena, and last week it was packed with music industry veterans and aficionadoes of their music as they reminisced about how they started. Jerry was the top promotional music guy in the country in 1962 when they decided to work together and scraped up $1,000 to make two records, one of which was a single by Herb called "Tell It to the Birds," which he originally thought would be good for the Beatles.
It sold several thousand copies for Dot Records and they got $750 for it. "We were working out of Herb's garage in West Hollywood at the time and invested it all in a record by Herb and The Tijuana Brass called 'The Lonely Bull,'" Jerry said. "We called it A&M Record #101, so people would think we had a hundred records before it." Herb took up the story:
I was going to Tijuana every Spring for the bullfights, and was intrigued by the brass band in the stands which introduced each fight. Although I never listened to mariachi music, it had a kind of magical sound, with a melody I liked which gave me goose bumps. We captured that feeling in the record, which we cut at Conway studios in Hollywood, and when it was done we played it for a disc jockey, who said to us it needed something more, a hook. He gave us a tape he had of 30,000 people yelling 'ole.' We added that at the opening, and it took off... calls came from all over the world and A&M was in business.
To hear Herb's new remix of the song, "The Lonely Bull," click here and then click on the blue button on the bottom of the screen to download free video. A wonderful experience.
A&M became one of the most important record companies the world has ever seen. The new CD set illustrates what a potent effect the legendary label is still having on contemporary popular music. I am fortunate enough to have known Jerry for many years, (our ex-wives were in the same charity group, SHARE, forever) and in recent years I have become friends with Herb and his oh-so-talented singer wife, Lani Hall, of Brasil 66 fame. As a long-time restaurant critic, I have been writing about their superb jazz-oriented eatery up on Mulholland, Vibrato, certainly the best place in ths city to hear cool jazz while eating hot food.
For many years their record company was headquartered at 1416 North La Brea, the former Charlie Chaplin Studios in Holywood, now home to Henson Studios. The state-of-the-art recording studio which Herb and Jerry built there is still the site for some of the best recordings made in the world today. Their studio was an amazing place and Jerry said, "People hung out there. You took a walk on that lot and you wouldn't believe who you would run into. It was interesting to everyone who worked there and it was lots of fun."
Herb Alpert and his lovely wife, vocalist Lani Hall, performed in concert on behalf of Fairfax High School at the Wilshire Ebell Theater on Saturday night. The concert was a benefit highlighting the school's 2012 Hall of Fame ceremony when four outstanding Fairfax graduates (Herb was class of 1953) who have contributed to their community were honored. My Huffington readers know that I am a huge Alpert/Hall fan, which is one reason why I was there. At New York's Lincoln Center this week, Herb and Lani are being honored for another startling act of generosity which they perpetuated: Two years ago Herb read that the Harlem School of the Arts was going to have to close its doors because of financial pressures. He offered a $500,000 matching grant to this wonderful community arts school, which helped them begin a financial recovery.
This is the uptown school which trains students in music, theatre, dance and the visual arts, even though they can't pay. They now serve some 1,000 students in the school and another 3,000 in schools throughout the city, including Saturday programs and efforts to help them get into college. Wondrous effect on their lives. Recently he went further, and the Herb Alpert Foundation gave them $5 million to get rid of the school's debt and create an endowment, with interest from this supporting student's tuition. Wow! Their foundation, run by a woman named Rona Sebastian, supports art initiatives, which range from elementary school to programs to give grants for artists in mid-career.
Listen to this: Since 1990, Herb and Lani's foundation has given more than $120 million in grants! Included in that is a major, major gift for the music school at the California Institute of the Arts, and then there was the creation of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Astonishing people. Out of the horn of that magic trumpet has come a bountiful gift to the world, and that's a high note that few people ever have hit.
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