Herb Alpert Steps Out With A Little Latin, A Little Piaf

Jazz legend Herb Alpert and his wife, Lani Hall, are both Grammy winners, and Alpert, who co-founded A&M Records, has sold over 75 million albums in a career that dates back to the late 1950s. They join host Scott Simon to talk about their new album, Steppin' Out.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Herb Alpert has a new CD out - Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, the former lead singer for Brasil 66, to whom he happens to be married. There's some soft jazz on the album, some Latin accents, a little Piaf, and some songbook classics, like Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On the Ritz"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUTTING ON THE RITZ")

HERB ALPERT AND LANI HALL: (Singing) Every Sunday evening with a swell clothes, rubbing elbows. Come let's mix with Rockefellers, walk with sticks and umbrellas, in their mitts, putting on the Ritz...

SIMON: The album is also a kind of 50th anniversary celebration for one of the most interesting careers ever in music. Herb Alpert has sold 75 million recordings with his own name on the front and hundreds of millions more as the A in A&M Records, where he produced the Carpenters, Janet Jackson, and Brasil 66, sold the company for half a billion dollars, then founded Almo Sounds. He's also been a Broadway producer, including "Angels in America," a philanthropist who's endowed the UCLA Alpert School of Music, the California Institute of Arts, and many more programs, a painter and sculptor, while Lani Hall writes short stories. Herb Alpert and Lani Hall join us from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

HERB ALPERT: Thank you.

LANI HALL: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: What puts a song on this album?

ALPERT: Well, you know, before A&M Records, before the Tijuana Brass, I was playing, you know, weddings and parties and I had a big backlog of songs that I could play in my memory bank. You know, probably over a thousand songs. So, every now and then I find myself whistling a song and I say, hmm, why'd that come up in my memory? And when I do that, I say, hmm, maybe I could find a way to do it. That's a little bit different than the way it's been heard before. So, that's always been the pursuit, to take a recognizable song and put a new spin on it.

SIMON: Herb Alpert did, well, like, weddings and bar mitzvahs and engagement parties and stuff?

ALPERT: I absolutely did. You had many, many weddings and people would come up to me, you know, years later and say, you know, we played "This guy's in Love with You" for our wedding. I said, well, great, how's it going? Well, we've been divorced for the last 10 years.

(LAUGHTER)

HALL: But we are going to celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary in December.

SIMON: I was just going to point that out. Congratulations.

HALL: Thank you.

SIMON: That's wonderful.

HALL: Yes.

SIMON: Let's listen to a little more, another cut here if we could. I just thought a beautiful rendition of "What'll I Do."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'LL I DO")

HALL: (Singing) What'll I do when you are far away and I am blue? What'll I do?

SIMON: Boy, that's beautiful. Lani Hall, your vocal work is so terrific and I must say particularly in that cut.

HALL: Thank you.

SIMON: So, let me get this story. You were singing in Old Town in Chicago and Sergio Mendez, of all people, walks in?

HALL: Well, he was actually playing. He was with his group, Brasil 65, and he was playing down the street. And he heard about me, and he came over to see my show and his group was going back to Brazil and breaking up and he wanted to try one more time to put a group together. But only this time he wanted to use a couple of Americans. And he saw me and he asked me to be the lead singer to this new group that he was putting together, Brasil 66.

ALPERT: Yeah, but first he had to get permission from your father.

HALL: Yeah, he did. He had to ask Lani, yeah.

ALPERT: Lani was 12 at the time.

(LAUGHTER)

HALL: No, no, I was 19. And I was living at home. He came over to our apartment, Sergio, and talked to my dad.

SIMON: And your father didn't throw him out the window?

HALL: My father was skeptical but, you know, he said she loves to sing and let's give it a try. If it doesn't work - he looked at me and said if it doesn't work, hop on a plane and come back home. I never did that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

BRASIL 66: (Singing in foreign language)

ALPERT: They became our opening act to the Tijuana Brass in 1966, and Lani and I became good friends over about a year.

HALL: No, we were friends for three years before we started to date.

ALPERT: Oh, OK. Yeah, I remember it as one year but...

(LAUGHTER)

HALL: It felt like three.

ALPERT: You can fill in the rest, if you like.

SIMON: Oh, I think we can, Mr. Alpert. I think we can fill in the rest. I think this is a good time to hear the duet that you guys have on this, which is wonderful - "It's All in the Game," if we could hear that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S ALL IN THE GAME")

HALL: (Singing) And your kiss, your lips, and caress, your waiting fingertips. And your heart will fly, and your heart will fly, your heart will fly away.

SIMON: That's very nice. So, in the morning, do you guys sing in the kitchen with each other like that or...

HALL: Yeah, every morning we do that at breakfast.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I figured. Well, you get a lot of practice then. You know, it's been wonderful to talk to you about your life and career in music. I find myself moved to ask at the end of all of this, how do you stay together for 40 years?

ALPERT: Oh, that's easy. I mean, I'm the luckiest guy. I mean, I appreciate...

HALL: I'm the lucky one.

ALPERT: ...I appreciate her uniqueness. She's brilliant. She's a great artist. She's a great cook at times.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: At times? Yes.

ALPERT: You know, take me someplace you've never been - how about the kitchen?

(LAUGHTER)

HALL: No, I make good chicken soup.

ALPERT: She makes good chicken soup.

HALL: I do.

ALPERT: But, you know, she's been a huge part of my life. She's my muse and she's my curator for my art, my paintings and sculptures, and...

HALL: And Herb is an inspiration to me every moment. He's the kindest man. He's generous, creative, talented, romantic. We respect each other and we listen to each other. And even if we're not happy with each other, we talk about it and we break through that barrier and we're back in our hearts with each other.

SIMON: Oh my God, that's beautiful.

ALPERT: Yeah. I feel like crying right now.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: I am crying.

ALPERT: Here, you want a tissue?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Thank you. We can do remarkable things with this satellite technology. Thank you for the tissue.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall. Their new CD, "Stepping Out." Thanks so much for being with us.

HALL: It was a pleasure.

ALPERT: Yeah, it was fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Sniff, sniff. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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