Film Review: Herb Alpert Is…

STUDIO: Abramorama | DIRECTOR: John Scheinfeld
RELEASE DATE: Oct. 2, 2020
SPECS: NR | 113 min. | Documentary

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  1/2

We all know one thing is for sure: Herb Alpert is a trumpet player who led the group the Tijuana Brass to a stream of instrumental hit records during the 1960s. But there’s a lot more to the story.

Herb Albert also is a music producer, an artist (abstract expressionist painting and sculpting), a music mogul and a philanthropist. And at the age of 84, Herb Alpert is still touring regularly, playing clubs with his jazz group and wife Lani Hall Alpert supplying the vocals.

Alpert puts his far-ranging and amazing career in perspective in the superb documentary Herb Alpert Is….

The multi-hyphenate subject narrates his own stories here, but he has plenty of help from friends, business associates, family members and admirers. That’s abetted by terrific archival footage and photos and segments from Alpert’s popular 1960s TV specials, along with recent footage of the man at home, in his studio, on the road and meeting some of the benefactors of his impressive charity work.

Rather than appearing a mere public relations piece, however, the film gets into some of Alpert’s darker days, which include a devastating creative block during a European tour, a bout with depression and his divorce from his first wife and subsequent marriage to Hall, the former singer for Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66.

Over the course of the nearly two-hour doc, we learn that Alpert, a Los Angeles native and son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, was an introvert as a kid after a demeaning experience involving a reading test. He funneled his creativity into trumpet playing in elementary school, which paid off big time after he paid his dues playing weddings and bar mitzvahs, performing in a military band after being drafted into the Army, and making his way in the music industry as a song writer/record producer.

Alpert’s revelation—to fashion a jazz band spiced with South of the Border flavoring—came in the early 1960s while attending a bullfight in Tijuana, leading to his first LP, The Lonely Bull. The surprise hit led to several smash albums and high-charting instrumental singles such as “Spanish Flea,” “Tijuana Taxi,” “A Taste of Honey,” “Rise,” “The Mexican Shuffle” (which became known as “The Teaberry Shuffle” because of its use on a chewing gum commercial) and “This Guy’s in Love with You,” his only attempt at vocals.

All of this is covered a in zippy, highly entertaining fashion by seasoned biographical documentarian John Scheinfeld (The People vs. John Lennon, Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everyone Talking about Him?)). The filmmaker also gives substantial time to Alpert’s teaming with producer Jerry Moss—the “M” to Alpert’s “A” in their label A&M Records—and their headquarters in Hollywood in the old Charlie Chaplin Studios (and now home to Jim Henson Studios), which Alpert tours. Also of note are such former label artists as Sting and Richard Carpenter discussing Alpert and Moss’s friendly, anti-corporate way of doing business.

Others opining on Alpert and his accomplishments range from The Roots’ Questlove, songwriter Paul Williams and producers Terry Lewis and Jerry Jam to Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach and members of the Tijuana Brass. Billy Bob Thornton also shows up to talk about Alpert’s music and the famous sexy cover of the album Whipped Cream…and Other Delights.

There’s a lot to jam into a documentary about Herb Alpert, but Herb Alpert is… never feels crammed or rushed. Appropriately, it’s done thoughtfully and artfully. Like Alpert’s music and charitable work, it leaves you with a smile and a good feeling. And these days, that’s something to be thankful for.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.