Fire and Ice

01.19.14

Jazz Musician Herb Alpert’s Art Encore

Herb Alpert is a man of many talents: he’s dominated the jazz scene, winning eight Grammys and shattering records. Now he’s taking over the art world.

Herb Alpert is a man of many talents.

As a jazz musician, writer, and producer, he has broken multiple industry records—five albums simultaneously in the top 20 of Billboard’s Pop Album Chart and the only recording artist to hit No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 pop chart as both a vocalist and an instrumentalist—outsold the Beatles in 1966, and co-founded the successful record label A&M Records. Not to mention, he is nominated for his ninth Grammy this year.

It goes without saying that Alpert has led a very successful tenure as a musician. But he’s also a painter and a sculptor.

“I think painting is a bit like jazz,” Alpert said in his 2002 documentary Music for Your Eyes. “When you play jazz, you’re playing your own life—playing your experiences … things that have happened good or bad.”

Herb Alpert in the studio.
Herb Alpert in the studio. (Gerry Wersh)

The instrumentalist began painting in 1970 after suffering a physical and emotional breakdown due to a stressful decade of non-stop touring and recording. Paralyzed at the slightest attempt to play the trumpet, Alpert broke up his band, the Tijuana Brass, built a small studio outside of his home, and turned his jazz beats into paint strokes.

“I had no intention of being a professional artist,” Alpert told The Daily Beast at his gallery, opening Wednesday night. “It started out as my own amazement and then it turned into something that became ingrained in me. It’s something that I get a lot of energy and pleasure from.”

Some two decades later, Alpert had returned to the recording studio, but continued to paint regularly. It was around that time that artist Kristan Marvell introduced Alpert to sculpture and they began to collaborate—something that is common in music, but an anomaly when it comes to painting or sculpture.

The sculpture exhibition, which also includes dancer turned artist Anita Huffington, at ACA Galleries in New York is from a series that Alpert began a little over a decade ago. “I took a trip to Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest,” Alpert revealed. “There were these giant sculptures at Stanley Park and I got excited about the feeling of it—I had no idea what they were trying to symbolize, but there was something about it that I liked. So I went home and started doing these early pieces that had more of a symbolic feeling to it and I realized I wasn’t having as much fun as I thought I would. Then I started riffing on it—I started doing these jazz types of shapes and all of a sudden I was up to 12, 15, 18 feet of just motion.”

Herb Alpert
Freedom, 2013 (© Philipp Scholz Rittermann)

From small-scaled models to the most recent  depictions of what has been described as “frozen smoke,” the fourteen three-to-four foot totem sculptures of various shapes and sizes present the viewers with the complete range and progression of Alpert’s inspiration, including the more symbolic preliminary works. The smooth, organic shapes flow perfectly into Huffington’s sculptures with their smooth curves of the female body.

In addition to Alpert’s creative contributions, he is also an avid philanthropist for the arts. Established in the 80s with his wife, Lani Hall Alpert, the Herb Alpert Foundation “supports areas which they believe have great potential for bringing young people the tools and wisdom to develop their potential.” The organization has also awarded grants to CalArts and UCLA.

In the course of three years, $6 million worth of grants from the foundation were given to the Harlem School of the Arts, which temporarily shut down due to lack of funding. Due to this game-changing contribution, the community-based cultural and educational institution was able to re-open its doors and re-dedicate the building to Alpert in 2013.

Totems and Deities: The Sculpture of Herb Alpert and Anita Huffington will be on display at ACA Galleries in New York from January 16 to March 1, 2014. Coinciding with the gallery show, three large-scale totems will be on view in the Upper West Side’s Dante Park from January 25 to April 15, 2014.