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A Film that Distills the Essence of Herb Alpert (With and Without the Tijuana Brass)

Music Documentaries

If all you know about Herb Alpert is the Tijuana Brass … well, that’s probably OK, because the iconic 1960s band sure made some exuberant swingy jazz that still sounds fresh today and still gets your toes tapping and your hips swinging.

But the handsome leader of one of the top-selling musical combos of the era (outselling the Beatles at several points) is much more than just a charismatic entertainer and exceptionally skilled trumpet player. 

He was also the co-founder in 1962 (with Jerry Moss) of A&M Records, which has been called the most successful independent music company in history.

The partners sold their label to Polygram in 1989 but continued to run the company until 1993. They signed dozens of rock bands, musicians and composers in a wide range of musical styles, most of whom (like the Tijuana Brass) continue to be interesting today. The list is diverse and includes Burt Bachrach, Quincy Jones, Sting and the Police, Supertramp, Styx, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens/Yusuf, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘66 and, briefly, the Sex Pistols. 

Alpert continued to play and perform into the 1990s, but (thanks in part to a lawsuit against Polygram that earned him and Moss $200 million), he stopped working and devoted himself to painting, sculpture and philanthropy — and to being the interesting focal point of several podcasts, interviews and, now, a documentary film called, “Herb Alpert Is …”. Shortly before the film was released in early October, a new box set of Alpert’s music was also released. 

Tri-state region residents can view the documentary (and the fun trailer, to whet your appetite) through the Pittsfield, Mass., Jewish Film Festival’s winterFlicks series. 

One might wonder why the trumpet-playing leader of a salsa-style band is featured in a Jewish Film Festival. 

Joel Curran, an organizer of the festival, said that, “Films are selected by a subcommittee from American and international sources and include any subject or content pertinent to the Jewish community.”

Alpert, it turns out, was a son of Jewish immigrants, Tillie (Goldberg) and Louis Leib Alpert. He was raised in Los Angeles, Calif., and began playing the trumpet at age 8. After starting his own band in the 1960s he went on to earn nine Grammy Awards and (with Moss) a berth at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

All the interesting nooks and crannies of Alpert’s life can only be hinted at in a short newspaper article. For a deeper dive, check out “Herb Alpert Is …,” which has been available for download since Oct. 31 and can still be seen until Nov. 30. 

For more information on this and other films in the winterFlicks series of the Berkshire Jewish Film Festival, and to buy tickets at $10 each, go to www.berkshirejewishfilmfestival.org or call 413-445-4872, ext. 10.

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