By Mimi Pollack
As a child in Mexico City in the 1960’s, I remember my older siblings listening to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s album, “The Lonely Bull,” and I thought he was a handsome, musical, Mexican bullfighter. I loved his distinctive trumpet and signature sound. That signature sound could later be heard in various commercials, the “Dating Game” on television, and the movie “Casino Royale.”
Then, as a young teen, Sergio Mendes and Brasil’66’s first album came out. The lead singer was Lani Hall, Alpert’s future wife. I marveled at her voice and sang along to “Mas Que Nada.”She sang in Portuguese and English.
Years passed and as an adult I listened to Hall’s music as a successful Latin American recording artist from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s, singing in Spanish. She also performed duets with many famous Latin American singers, such as Jose Feliciano, Roberto Carlos, and Jose Jose. She won a Grammy in 1985 for best Latin Pop Performance for the song, “Es Facil Amar,” on which Alpert also played trumpet.
I also discovered that she was an American who sang phonetically in Spanish and Portuguese. As a language teacher, I respected her dedication in achieving perfect pronunciation and feeling in those two languages that she did not speak. I admire that the Los Angeles-born Alpert and Chicago-born Hall have had such a cross-cultural appeal and influence.
Herb Alpert was not only a talented musician, but also a savvy businessman who co-founded A&M Records with Jerry Moss. They discovered Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, and that group went on to be the opening act for the Tijuana Brass. A&M Records produced albums for Chris Montes, Cat Stevens, and the Carpenters, to name a few.
All of this was on my mind when I finally saw them live in concert at Belly Up in Solana Beach on Thursday. The intimate setting was good fit for them, and Alpert mentioned that he had wanted to perform there for awhile. The show was a medley of Alpert’s old hits and a few songs from his most recent album, “In the Mood,” along with Hall’s hits from her days with Sergio Mendes.
They opened with Hall singing a rousing rendition of “O Pato.” Other songs included “Mas Que Nada,” “One Note Samba,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Putting on the Ritz,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “The Lonely Bull,” and “This Guy’s in Love with you.”
They had an easy presence on stage and I was struck by Alpert’s sweetness and humor. They were accompanied by three great musicians, including an exceptional piano player and singer, San Diego’s own Bill Cantos, plus Hussain Jiffry from Sri Lanka on bass, and a wild Michael Shapiro on drums.
In between songs, Alpert bantered with the audience and gave one of the reasons for his success over the years: “I have been very lucky, but I have also always had my antennas up.” At the age of 80, he is still passionate about his art as is Hall, which is why they continue to tour and make music.
I am sure it also helped that the audience was loud and appreciative, and gave them several standing ovations.
Finally, it was nice to see how this married couple of 41 years continues to inspire each other and not just rest on their laurels. Besides the music, they also paint, do charity work, and Hall has written her first book, “Emotional Memoirs & Short Stories.”
Mimi Pollack is an ESL teacher and a freelance writer.
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