Veteran trumpeter Herb Alpert shows no signs of slowing down. He released his 49th studio album last week. And his 1965 tune "Ladyfingers" has somehow resurfaced and chalked up more than 200 million views on TikTok.
"Do you know TikTok?" Alpert asked a capacity crowd Tuesday night at the Ordway in St. Paul.
Few in the baby-boomer audience responded affirmatively. But they had plenty of questions for him, which he invited throughout his 1¾-hour crowd-pleasing performance with his singing wife, Lani Hall.
"What's your favorite song?" "Do you paint with watercolors?" "How long have you been married?"
Alpert may be a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, the cofounder of hugely successful A&M Records (Peter Frampton, the Police, Janet Jackson) and the leader of one of the best-selling pop instrumental groups of all time (the Tijuana Brass). But he's really a jazz musician at heart, and improv is his thing. He's an in-the-moment kind of guy.
That was the theme of his delightfully informal and thoroughly enjoyable concert.
When you're 88 years old, celebrating the 60th anniversary of your recording career and 50th anniversary of your marriage, you've probably got some leeway. So you have a set list but you still wing it. You talk a lot, turning the concert into a rambling but informative monologue about your songs, life and career — with a few fun tangents like why a musician friend who spoke little English named an instrumental "Push Pull" (because he saw signs on restroom doors). And you let your three musicians — six-string bassist Hussain Jiffry, drummer Tiki Pasillas and keyboardist Bill Cantos — stretch out during their solos.
To be sure, there were well-rehearsed medleys, especially the trumpeter's big instrumental hits starting with 1979's "Rise" and then breezing through several 1960s Tijuana Brass favorites including "Spanish Flea," "The Lonely Bull" and "A Taste of Honey."
Hall was also given a medley of selections from Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 (she was their lead singer) but, frankly, gems like "The Look of Love" and "The Fool on the Hill" got the short shrift truncated to a chorus and a verse.
Hall, who, at 77, still possesses a lovely, beguiling voice, also delivered a full rendition of "Seasons of Love" from "Rent," but too often it felt like she was an accessory rather than a key participant.
Alpert made a big to-do over their relationship in the kissy, kissy photos of them that accompanied "This Guy's in Love with You," his only noteworthy vocal hit. He explained he needed a vocal number to help break up the monotony of his trumpet playing for a 1968 TV special. And then Tuesday he offered what he thought would be his next singing effort, "Close to You," which was wisely rejected and given instead to the Carpenters on his A&M Records.
At the Ordway, the trumpeter, who was in good form, also offered instrumental interpretations of "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Sunny Side of the Street" as well as a playful taste of "If I Were a Rich Man," which he called his Russian-born father's favorite song.
Throughout the concert, Alpert made effective use of visuals as a backdrop, whether his abstract acrylic paintings or film clips. As he played a live instrumental version of Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," he showed movies of trumpeters and their partners from around the world holding up cute signs like "You love your trumpet more than me."
For "Puttin' on the Ritz," Alpert did a similar thing. playing live paired with a film featuring energetic young dancers on a bus driven by a familiar looking trumpeter.
The concert ended with a rousing sing-along (words projected on the screen) of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana," during which Jiffry sang a verse in English and Hall one in Portuguese, though she feigned she didn't want to. It was a bit, of course. But the Alpert/Hall kiss at the end was the real deal. Improvised but no doubt practiced many times over the years.