Over the years I have often been asked questions like, "Is it intimidating, strange, weird, nerve wracking, or even scary to be working, musically, with a music legend like Herb Alpert?" No... not at all, He's just my uncle Herbie.
Unc and I have worked together 3 or 4 times over the years, twice in the last two years. Our first collaboration was on a song that I co-wrote and produced with him called, "Rise" that became both uncle's and my first #1 pop instrumental record. And, we were both nominated for Grammy awards, in 1979. Uncle won.
After many years of producing, writing and mixing other artists' records while Unc was doing his records, we finally got together last year to work on a song called, "Puttin' On The Ritz" for his 39th album, "Steppin' Out". Once again we were pretty successful in that we created a great record and video that propelled Herb to his 9th Grammy win.
Unc, like myself, is always searching for new jungles to explore and new rivers to cross. We are very much alike in that we love all kinds of music, sounds, colors and expression. I think we both listen to and approach music very differently. And in my mind, our different approaches are the Ying Yang synergistic element that makes what we do, when we work together, pretty cool and unique.
Musically, I see Unc as a "Top Down Guy." Meaning, he always listens for melody first, chordal sounds next, then rhythm, bass, etc. I myself am a "Bottom Up Guy." Meaning, I listen for rhythm, beat, bass, then melody and chords. I have always felt that if people are not tapping their feet they are not going to be listening long enough to get to the chords and melody. Unc is really great at picking wonderful melodies that people like and I really love putting rhythm, bass and the funky stuff to those great melodies.
Last October I was itching to work on something new for Unc so I called him up and asked him what song he was thinking about that we could record for his current forth coming album, "In The Mood." Without hesitation he said, "I really like the melody to Chattanooga Choo Choo."
I immediately knew I wanted to try and do something totally unique and different with this old Glenn Miller standard. The first thing I did was to get a rhythm groove going while I plucked out the melody on my electronic keyboard. Once I got something I really liked I sent the little groove, via the Internet, to Herb. I always want to see if he likes the tempo and key before we proceed. Also, the groove and instrumentation was entirely electronic and I wasn't so sure he was going to like it.
Herb called me back first thing the next morning. "Man, I am digging this groove and the horn sounds great playing over it." I said, "Are you sure? It's all electronic." Unc thought it was a totally cool way of doing this song and recorded a few tracks of trumpets and then sent them to me via the Internet. Though he and I live just over the hill from each other, we each work in our own home studios. Unlike when we recorded, "Rise", in a big studio with all of the musicians together, uncle and I were never once together during the recording of, "Chattanooga Choo Choo" or even during the recording of last years' "Puttin' On The Ritz.". We discuss song structure and ideas over the phone and then we each add bits and pieces of music in our own studios and send them back and forth until we are both happy.
We decided we wanted some really unique sounding strings so Herb contacted the great Edward del Barrio to write and record strings. Eddie loved the track and really hit a home run by creating a brilliant orchestration. Once again, neither Unc or myself were in the studio with Eddie when he wrote or recorded the strings. We all work in a virtual way within our own studios using computers, real instruments and electronics. Technology allows us all to create music when the inspiration hits us. I like to work late at night until 2-4am. Uncle likes to work in the morning or afternoon so working virtually allows us both to be free to work when we are most creative.
The amazing part of working with Uncle is that he is 79, has the energy of a 20 year old and has no fears about working with computers, loops, electronics, advanced recording software and trying the new stuff that I keep sending his way. He is actually like a train speeding down the track in that he just keeps moving forward...