Q&A: Herb Alpert on doubling his arts support and new doc on his iconic life

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For over six decades, legendary trumpeter and philanthropist Herb Alpert has made a substantial impact on the art world.

From dominating in the music realm with over 72 million records sold, nine Grammy Awards, and co-founding and selling a multi-million dollar record label, to becoming a notable painter and sculptor, it’s safe to say Alpert has earned the title of “iconic.”

It’s the annual Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, however, that Alpert not only holds especially near and dear to his heart, but has given hundreds of artists the opportunity to make their own impact. Over the course of 26 years, Alpert and wife Lani Hall have provided five unrestricted $75,000 grants to five independent artists working in dance, film/video, music, theatre and visual art.

In 2021, however, the philanthropic couple have decided to double the amount of winners. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and harsh political climate, Alpert said he feels like artists need the support more than ever.  

Last time we talked, you were honoring the artists for the 2020 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts. I see now that you are doubling the amount of awards in 2021. What inspired that?

Oh man inspired. I hate to say I’m inspired by what’s happening in the country right now with the virus, but I think the artists are that important. I think the artists are the heartbeat and soul of our democracy, and I think having twice as many artists highlighted is the right thing to do. I think we should be more concerned with helping to support the artists. The artists are our second responders. When we want to feel something, we turn to art, and I don’t mean just music, it’s painting, sculpting, acting, poetry, whatever it happens to be. I think they’re that important for our society.

Are you looking for anything special or particularly unique in the artists this year?

The artists that we choose are artists that are on the road less traveled. They’re the ones that are just kind of doing their own thing. They don’t care whether they’re commercial or not. They’re just expressing themselves as best they can. And those are the artists that attract me. They’re not looking for attention, but they deserve to have attention, because I think they’re that important to our society.

In your new documentary “Herb Alpert Is…” (hitting theaters and VOD on Oct. 1), something that really stood out to me was you said you follow your instincts when you create music and art. Did you learn that or did that just come natural to you?

That’s a good question. I wonder if I did learn that? I don’t know. I think by listening to the artists that I really love, and meeting a lot of them through the years. All the great artists that I’ve met are all very spontaneous, very honest, very willing to just be themselves. I had a chance to play with Louis Armstrong one night. I interviewed him, and it was astounding how his personality and his goodness and his creativity came right through the horn. That wasn’t his horn. It was him. I’ve met a lot of other artists that are not necessarily wonderful people, but they have a wonderful way of playing. But Louis was an exception in terms of the way he sounded, what you heard was Louis Armstrong.

So, what does that mean to you to have this documentary made on your life?

It means I get to pass on some of the good and the bad that has happened to me. And I think it could be helpful to some other people. That’s about all I can think of. It’s not something that I was craving to do, but I thought, well, my story is pretty interesting.

You know, I started playing when I was eight years old, only because I had this opportunity in my grammar school. And I think kids should have that ability to explore their creativity at an early age. It shouldn’t be a privilege. It should be a right. Because if they do that, then they become innovators. If they, stick to an instrument or poetry, painting, sculpting, acting, whatever it happens to be, and they start feeling okay about themselves, maybe they can feel okay about other people that are trying for the same thing. And then if they don’t want to follow through and become a professional at it, I think just that experience can give them the impetus to be creative in their life, whatever that happens to be.

Is there any part of the documentary that’s particularly special to you or something that you want everyone to see?

You know, this sounds weird. I don’t honestly think about it like that. If I have to think about it, I’d say the part where I said I was rich, famous, and not happy. I think that’s an important part.

How has Lani played a role in your art?

Well, she’s a muse, she’s an angel. We’ve been married for 46 years. She’s extremely honest with her feelings and she’s become like my curator. If I paint something and I want to have a second opinion, I’ll bring Lani in and she’ll say something like, “I’m not sure you’re finished with this,” and that doesn’t mean I’m not finished, but she always has something interesting to say about the art, about the sculptures, and about music as well. She’s very creative and very honest, and it’s a pleasure to be around that type of person.

I loved your “Smile” music video that you just put out. Was that your idea to make it?  

Yes. It was my idea to do a video on “Smile.” I think it sends a nice message. I think in this time when we’re all kind of in the dumps about what’s going on, this gives us a chance to just think that there is a brighter way. There’s another way. You can be miserable, or you can turn the corner and smile and make the best of a situation. I want us to be uplifted. I wanted it to be uplifting. And I think the song itself, the melody itself, is uplifting and the lyrics as well. We’re getting tremendous feedback on it, so I’m happy about that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3xcybZ856Q

I have to know, how are you doing during this time? We talked in May and it seemed like we had been in isolation for so long. And to think it’s September now, how are you doing?

Well, all things considered, I’m very lucky. I’m a brain guy and wake up in the morning thinking about music, painting, and sculpting. So I get to do that. And that’s what I’d be doing. If it was a backup of a year or two from now backwards, I’d be doing the same thing. So I’m one of those lucky ones that gets to wake up in the morning and be excited about what I’m doing. I wish more people would have that feeling.

Herb Alpert’s documentary “Herb Alpert Is…” releases Oct. 1. The documentary premiere is free on Facebook Live on October l at 5 p.m. PST, 8 p.m. EST with a Q&A with Herb and John Scheinfeld, the director of the movie. 

A three-CD soundtrack box set, also titled “Herb Alpert Is…” is set to release Oct. 2. For more information, visit www.herbalpert.com

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