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A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, KNKX and Jazz24 celebrate highly regarded jazz creators who continue to inspire.

As a leader and producer, Herb Alpert delivers sensational sounds

Herb Alpert performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Thursday, May 4, 2017, in New Orleans.
Amy Harris
Herb Alpert performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on Thursday, May 4, 2017, in New Orleans.

For many Americans, the excitement of the 1960s was not ‘soundtracked’ by the music of The British Invasion, Bob Dylan or psychedelia. Instead it was the mariachi-influenced sound of none other than Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass.

The band played with an exuberance and innovation that was uniquely their own, and America in the mid 1960’s couldn’t get enough of it!

It all started when Alpert, who at the time was a hard-working record producer on a small record label, decided to get out of Los Angeles for the day and drive the relatively short distance to Mexico for some R&R. He ended up in Tijuana, taking in a bull fight, of all things.

It was a lark that would change Alpert’s life forever.

The lark continued when Alpert got back to LA. He had a song in his head, winding through his consciousness as he drove the Pacific Coast Highway back to town.

Alpert went into the studio, alone, to riff with his trumpet on the grandeur and romance of what he’d heard at the bull ring that day.

Knowing his way around the studio, Alpert realized he could simply over-dub himself enough times to make it sound like a small army of mariachi trumpets, serenading the excited crowd. The crowd sounds were dubbed in to complete the effect, erupting over the music from time to time.

When “The Lonely Bull” was released in 1962, America ate it up, and a hit sound was born.

Alpert would quickly become a superstar, and his record label a big success. He was well prepared.

His upbringing, in LA and among a family where everyone played musical instruments, was a key reason he entered the music business at a young age. A producer and songwriter, he worked with artists like Sam Cooke, and Jan and Dean.

As Alpert put it in a 2010 BBC documentary, he learned to “listen emotionally” for the melody that would hook an audience.

He worked hard throughout the 1950s to spot talent in the studio but always had a smoldering desire to be out front himself — and call his own shots. In the early ‘60s, Alpert quit RCA records to start his own label in his garage with friend and promoter Jerry Moss. Alpert and Moss simply took the first letters of their last names, and A&M records was born.

A&M Records enjoyed much of its initial success due to the meteoric rise and widespread appeal of the Tijuana Brass (TJB) sound, eventually releasing over 10 record-breaking albums in a span of six years. In 1966, the TJB even outsold The Beatles!

Meanwhile, Alpert did not lose his talent for spotting rising stars, and A&M Records would go on to sign such remarkable acts as Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66, The Carpenters, Peter Frampton, The Police, Sheryl Crow, and Soundgarden.

In 1979, Alpert had a massive comeback hit with “Rise.” The single, and album of the same name, harnessed a sexy contemporary sound that still harkened back to a romantic Latin-influenced sensibility.


After Alpert jumped off the years-long roller coaster ride of constant recording and touring with the TJB in the late ’60s, he was in some serious need for grounding.

He found that in Lani Hall, a singer in Sergio Mendes’ group ‘Brazil ’66’, which he signed to A&M Records. She and Alpert were married in 1973, and began performing together in 2007.

In an interview with OffBeat magazine in 2017, Alpert said, “I want to make music that transports people.”

But Alpert and his exotic sound did not just take his many listeners to South of the Border.

His innovative arrangements and individual musical expression conjured a whole new aural universe of romance, sophistication and energy that perfectly matched the atmosphere of 1960s America.
Copyright 2024 KNKX Public Radio. To see more, visit KNKX Public Radio.

Michael has been part of the KNKX/ Jazz 24 family for quite some time, as producer and jazz host, and is a well-known Fanboy for the music of Chet Baker. He’s also one of the narrators for the beloved feature “Birdnote”, which got its’ start on KNKX.