They have it all – a contemporary look, infinite sound and sex appeal. Grammy winners Herb Alpert, 77, and his wife, Lani Hall, opened their repeat engagement at the Café Carlyle in NYC this week to a packed house which included talker Regis Philbin and a woman who said she traveled from Korea to see the show. The intimate room was the perfect venue for the classy duo.
They mixed up the repertoire with old and new. A Tijuana Brass medley featuring the legendary Alpert on trumpet took us back to “This Guy’s In Love With You” and the days of vinyl. They also did songs from their upcoming album, “Steppin Out,” which coincides with the 50th anniversary of A & M, the successful record company co-founded by Alpert. Playing the horn is Alpert’s passion and when he does so, he’s feeling the music in the moment.
Hall’s phrasing and intense emotion are timeless, especially so in Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Anything Goes.” You feel the on stage chemistry between Hall and Alpert, who have been married almost 40 years. They met when Alpert auditioned Sergio Mendes and Brazil ‘66.” Hall was the lead singer. Her voice is still magnificent with Bill Cantos on piano in “It’s All In The Game.” Cantos did an interesting arrangement of “And The Angels Sing.” The loop used in “Puttin On The Ritz” was very effective. I couldn’t help but think of Fred Astaire dancing. The jazz influence is strong throughout the show.
Every artist needs an audience, but Alpert off-handedly interacts with them by requesting and then answering questions. He values the focus group technique even if a bit unusual in a cabaret setting. He told us that when he was 18, Ziggy Elman gave him a trumpet lesson; that “Taste of Honey,” the result of his “Whipped Cream” album with the memorable cover, was initially the “B side” until he successfully convinced his partner, Jerry Moss, to flip it over. “That was the record that got me on the Ed Sullivan Show,” Alpert quipped. A highlight of Alpert’s career was when he signed Richard and Karen Carpenter at A& M. He put on the tape, closed his eyes and listened. He credits the late Sam Cooke with teaching him how to appreciate music “by feel.”
In 1968, Alpert was doing an NBC-TV special when Jack Haley, the director, asked him to sing a song. “I don’t think of myself as a singer, so I called my friend, Burt Bachrach, who sent me a demo,” he explained: “This Girl’s In Love With You.” Then he called Hal David, the lyricist, and asked him to change the gender in the words which he did. Then he asked David if he had a song tucked away, and he sent him “Close to You,” which Alpert gave to the Carpenters.” He still chokes up when talking about Karen Carpenter.
The Harlem School of Music is recognizing Alpert for his support next week. He saved the school when it was on the verge of closing. “Many great artists lived in Harlem,” Alpert said, and “Children discover their own uniqueness through the arts.”
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