It would have been challenging to have grown up in the 1960s and have missed Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. In 1966, I was 10. It was Christmastime and we had been out shopping. My mother popped a fresh vinyl LP on the turntable and Herb Alpert’s “What Now My Love?” began rocking the house on a 1940’s vintage turntable. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass was a sound so alive. It made me so excited to be alive, and I was just a snot-nosed kid. It was such a positive sound—a mix of Latin and Jazz, which worked so well together yet seemed the unlikely duo.
Christmas Morning of 1966, there under the tree was Alpert’s “South of the Border” album, which was even better than the first. I couldn’t get enough of it. For my birthday in 1967, I unwrapped Herb Alpert’s “Going Places,” album which further punctuated my passion for the Brass. I got into band class in elementary school and learned to play trumpet. I didn’t play very well nor did I go very far. Automobiles got my attention at age 14 and my Bundy trumpet got left behind.
However, Herb Alpert & the TLB never left my soul. I have most of the albums Herb Alpert and the TJB produced during a very heady time. When I was young, I saw Herb Alpert as a great trumpeter. I thought he was Hispanic. However, I knew so very little about him. Herb Alpert grew up and came of age in a faraway place called Los Angeles, California a continent away from my native mid-Atlantic. My home and my roots were in the National Capital Area on both sides of the Potomac.
I’d close my bedroom door, put Herb on my humble phonograph, and time would melt away. I’d get so lost in his music and the talent he amassed to conceive the Tijuana Brass. Night would come and I would gaze through the frosty glass at the street lights and snowfall listening to the Tijuana Brass. As the months and years passed, my album collection grew thicker. There was “SRO,” “Herb Alpert’s Ninth,” “The Beat Of The Brass,” “Volume 2,” “Sounds Like…” and a host of others that remain with me today.
Ironically, Los Angeles has been my home for 27 years and all the great mysteries about L.A. are no longer mysteries. L.A. is no longer a faraway place. When my career brought me here three decades ago, I’d drive by what used to be the Charles Chaplin Studios and A&M Records at 1416 North La Brea Avenue on my way down to Wilshire to work and get lost in a daydream of what that place was like in the A&M years. I thought of the times spent in my bedroom back home in Maryland listening to Herb and the Brass trying to get my mind around the music and that little spot in big L.A.
Herb Alpert was born and raised in Boyle Heights, a close-in suburb on the East Side of Los Angeles. He was born to Jewish immigrants—Tillie and Louis Leib Alpert—from the present-day Ukraine and Romania. They were a musical family and Herb Alpert came by his talents honestly. He started playing trumpet as a kid, which continued to evolve into his time in the Army and really began to flourish when he got out. He pursued his passion for music, which caught fire in the 1960s with that first TJB album, “The Lonely Bull.” What followed was a whirlwind rise to the top of the charts. The Tijuana Brass became a household name and sound, which could even be heard on game shows, commercials, and—yes—even “The Brady Bunch.”
The Tijuana Brass rode the high of success into the 1970s when they all concluded the passion was gone and it was time to move on. One can only imagine was it was like to be so successful and in the public eye. Though many envied their great success, it took a toll on each of them. Times were changing and it was time for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to move on.
In the post TJB years, Herb never stopped growing as a seasoned musician and a great artistic talent. What he’s done in the decades since is no less than remarkable. Yet—“Mexican Shuffle” and “Tijuana Taxi” continue to play in my head.
Some things will never change.