Hall’s new album “Seasons of Love” came together gradually. “I didn’t know I was going to do this,” she acknowledges, relating that it began with Alpert putting together a backing track for the song “Seasons of Love,” knowing she loved it. A potential single turned into a potential EP turned into the album as she explored ideas. “But it wasn’t my decision,” Hall says with a laugh, “and I had no idea that this was going on and it ended up, to me, as a love album. It’s songs about how deep love can go, and I’m very, very happy with it.” Her cover of the Bill Withers song “Lovely Day” stands out with its unique arrangement, and “You Are” highlights the warmth that is a hallmark of Hall’s voice.
One track with longstanding meaning for the singer is “Now You Know.” Hall knew it because it was “on an album that I grew up with and sang with all the time, which was a jazz album, actually. I would sing in my room, and I would sing that song” by Ruth Olay. “I always loved that song, and I love the way she sang it.”
Alpert didn’t overthink what to record for “Sunny Side of the Street,” his new album. “I just kinda go with songs that I like to play,” he relates. “And this is the honest part of it: I’m not making music for anyone else, I’m making music for myself. And when I finish with it, I feel, ‘Well, if someone else likes it, that’ll give me some satisfaction.’”
“Goo Goo Eyes” jumps out, as does the Hawaiian song “I’ll Remember You.” Alpert once played the song, written by Kui Lee (who died of a brain tumor at just 34), in Honolulu with Don Ho. “My partner [A&M Records co-founder] Jerry Moss called me maybe eight months ago, or a year ago and said, ‘why you don’t record that song?’” Alpert was unsure at first. “I gave it a shot because I wanted to do it for Jerry. So I recorded it and I said, ‘Oh, man, I like this.’ I like the way that song came out. It has a mood, from beginning to end.”
Both Alpert and Hall are as affable and generous in conversation as they come across in “Herb Alpert Is…,” John Scheinfeld’s splendid 2020 documentary that captures Alpert’s early life as the child of Russian immigrants, his meteoric mid-60′s rise and ongoing success, his passion and talent for sculpting and painting as well as music, and last but certainly not least the extraordinarily happy marriage he and Hall have shared for nearly half a century.
The trumpeter truly was everywhere in the 60′s. Much is made of The Beatles’ U.S. chart dominance, and for good reason. But Alpert’s album sales and chart placements were staggering. “Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass have dominated the 1966 album charts as no artist has ever done in history,” proclaimed the “Billboard 1967 Record Talent Directory: Who’s Who In The World Of Music” publication. “During the first 10 months of the year,” it continued, “the Brass sold more than twice the number of LPs as the Beatles and more than all the soundtracks combined.” The group, which initially was really Alpert double-tracking trumpet parts and enlisting studio musicians for the other instrumentation, released such iconic singles as “A Taste of Honey,” and “Spanish Flea.”
After disbanding the Brass and stepping away from the trumpet for a while, Alpert came roaring back in the late 70′s with the funky #1 hit “Rise,” setting the stage for a series of reinventions. A&M continued to have considerable success with a number of artists, from The Carpenters to The Police, before Alpert and Moss sold the company to PolyGram in the late 1980s. “We were there at the right moment, at the right time,” Alpert acknowledges. “If we tried to start A&M Records in today’s world, I don’t think we’d have a chance. So luck plays an important part in one’s success; I’m grateful for that and recognize that.”
Hall grew up in Chicago, and was singing in local clubs when she met Mendes, in town with his group Brasil ‘65. “It was their last gig — they were breaking up,” she explains. “The owner of the club that I was playing for… wanted me to see them, so I went over there between my shows and I listened.” Before long, she joined the fledgling Brasil ‘66, moved to Los Angeles and began singing in Portuguese phonetically. “Oh I LOVE singing in Portuguese,” Hall exclaims. “I think it’s the most musical language to sing in. I had the desire, and I guess I had the ear. So I really wrapped my arms around that.” The group performed both English and Portuguese material, but it was the combination of hypnotic rhythms, Mendes’ jazzy piano and Hall’s dazzling vocals on first single “Mas Que Nada” that broke Brasil ‘66 in the United States and then around the world.
The singer toured extensively (initially opening for the Tijuana Brass) and recorded with Mendes and company through the early 70′s, later starting a solo career that’s featured a Best Latin Pop Performance Grammy, successful albums in three languages and a James Bond theme song (for “Never Say Never Again”).
institutions have benefitted from their contributions, including what’s now known as the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. “Well, I go there when I can,” says Alpert. “We’re just now in the process of changing all of the practice rooms that were developed in about 1945 — so we had to do a lot of updating. Sonically we wanted to make it so it’s fun to be in the room.”
Hall and Alpert have hundreds of songs from which to choose for their concerts. How do they pick? “I just go for songs that feel right,” Alpert relates. “I feel like, if people are spending good money to see us, I want them to have a really positive experience. I pick the songs that I feel like are fun to listen to, that’s basically how I do it. Of course I do a Tijuana Brass medley with a lot of those hits,” he continues, “and then Lani does a Brasil ‘66 medley, and around that we just play songs we like to play, and the response has been fantastic.” The pair has tour dates scheduled through June 2023, culminating in a week of sold-out shows at London jazz institution Ronnie Scott’s.
Just before walking on stage at the Variety, as she’s done for decades, Hall will look up and say, “Please let me feel the music.” Then she, Alpert and the group will launch their set, and a theater full of fans will get to feel the music, too — and be transported to southern California, Brazil, Mexico and everywhere in-between.
Herb Alpert and Lani Hall
8 p.m. Dec. 5. $48-$68. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-876-5566, variety-playhouse.com.