Herb Alpert: Always in Tune

How a nice Jewish boy from East L.A. launched the Tijuana Brass, sold more albums than the Beatles, and at 76 remains the coolest guy in the room.

  1. One night in the fall of 1969, in the midst of his unparalleled triumphs as a performer and music executive, Herb Alpert came apart. Onstage in Munich, Germany, with the Tijuana Brass, he was beset by a strange and terrifying sensation. He saw himself sitting in the third row of the audience. For the rest of the evening he watched as someone named Herb Alpert blew the horn. “The question hit me,” he recalls, “‘Why is that guy seemingly so happy when he’s playing the trumpet but so unhappy when he’s with a group of people?’”

    Alpert’s out-of-body experience devastated him, both in its own right and because it indicated a crisis he’d long sensed approaching. “I don’t think I had a handle on what I was doing or who I was,” he says. “I had money and notoriety, but something was missing.” Things only worsened when Alpert returned home to Los Angeles. He picked up the trumpet and could no longer play. Just that quickly he had succumbed to a career-threatening psychosomatic episode. “I started stuttering through the horn,” he says.

    Alpert needed help. He flew to New York to talk to Carmine Caruso, a trumpet teacher who counseled brass players.

    “I said, ‘Carmine, what’s wrong?’

    “‘If I tell you, it won’t help.’

    “That intrigued me,” Alpert says. “So I ordered drinks and got him a little lushed up. Then I questioned him again.

    “‘Carmine, what am I doing wrong?’

    “‘Yursh trying to play the trumpet wiff your mouth open.’

    “He was right. I had formed a bad habit. I was playing with my...