Herb Alpert with President Obama at the White House yesterday.
On Wednesday I stood in front of my television set in Beverly Hills and actually cried tears of joy at what I was watching. There was the President of the United States, Barack Obama, honoring a man whom I know slightly and respect enormously, who was receiving The National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and art patrons by the United States government, one of twelve people to be so honored annually. He later emailed me a comment: "My dreams of being a professional artist never included the Medal of Arts Award, and I am deeply touched."
Over the course of the past three years I have written seven or eight articles here on Huffington about Herb Alpert and Lani Hall Alpert, the couple whom I met through their publicity woman, Caroline Graham, and then shared several evenings of music and a half-dozen afternoons of conversation with, listening to their songs and smiling at their stories. As I continued to write about them, I realized that this was an extraordinary pairing, two people whom I should relish and welcome into my life, which I have. Although Herb was standing at the podium in the White House, I saw his wife and lifetime partner, Lani Hall, sitting in the audience and crying her eyes out at the unbelievable sight.
Herb and Lani at an art event.
My mind went back to an evening many, many year ago when I first met Herb, along with his partner Jerry Moss, at an A&M Records concert It was the first time I heard his group, the Tijuana Brass, and their initial musical number, "The Lonely Bull." A lot of musical notes have gone under the bridge since then, and the man who created that unique sound has become an icon of sorts ...against his will, I am sure. Herb Alpert is a magnificent musician, but he is also an accomplished sculptor and painter. His art show, "In-ter-course," is currently at the Robert Berman Gallery in Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. I have written about the magnificent sculptures there and, most interestingly, his paintings with organic coffee...don't laugh, they are remarkable. I drive along Olympic Boulevard and, at the meridian lane of the avenue at 26th street are three towering black totem poles rising to the sky, Herb's tribute to the native Americans who inhabited this land before us. Another totem has just landed in Malibu at Rambla Pacifica on Pacific Coast Highway.
Herb with several of his totem pole sculptures.
At Olympic and 20th in Santa Monica I see the a-building Herb Alpert Educational Center, a community which will be dedicated to housing non-profit organizations who further educational causes. I have been to the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute at UCLA partially funded by him, and heard the young musicians playing there. An eight-time Grammy winner, Alpert just released a wonderful single, "Putting on the Ritz," from his 34th studio album, Steppin' Out, which will be out this summer. With his wife, Grammy-award winning singer Lani Hall, he will perform at the Hollywood Bowl on July 17. You know where I will be that evening. Incidentally, Herb and Lani have just returned from a very successful concert series in Chicago, and while there Lani did a book reading and signed copies of her new book, Emotional Memoirs & Short Stories, which I reviewed here in a rave on Huffington. A truly fascinating read of ten short stories, half fact and half fiction, which details her growing up in the Sixties in Chicago. She is a brilliant writer as well as musician and I hope she continues to write fiction.
Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert at a recent A&M anniversary.
"Herb Alpert - Self Portrait." by the artist.
When he and Jerry sold their record empire for untold millions, Herb could have retired to his lovely abode in Malibu and spent his days in the artistic pursuits which he loves..but he took a different path. In the early '80s he and Lani founded the Herb Alpert Foundation, directed by Rona Sebastian, which is dedicated to making a significant commitment to music and arts eduction, jazz studies and organizations which work toward creating a compassionate and empathetic society. Fancy words, I know...compassionate and empathetic...but I have seen them in action. Imagine this: the foundation has given $125 million in grants thus far! This trumpet player and his singer wife have given $125 million to real causes, solid needy organizations....without heralding their work or seeking recognition. It was only when the New York Times wrote in 2012 about Herb's lifesaving $6 million grant to the Harlem School of the Arts that we learned he had saved it from closing. My personal hero, Bill Moyers (whose show I religiously watch every week) said when they revealed Herb's Harlem offering: "Herb Alpert is a creative genius. His career continues to flourish, and he continues to use his gifts as an artist and a philanthropist to make our world a better place." And that's why I cried last night.