There are only a few artists who, after hearing them produce one or two notes, you know it's them: Coltrane's tenor sax. Santana's guitar. Miriam Makeba's voice.

Then, of course there's that guy with a horn, a horn that's kinda jazzy, kinda loungey, kinda mariachi — Herb Alpert.

Yup, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. 

Where did that sound come from? 

Alpert recalls frequent trips to Tijuana, Mexico. He went down there with model Dolores Erikson (of Whipped Cream fame) and business partner Jerry Moss (the "M" in A&M records). 

"We used to go down and watch bullfights. I kind of got charged up with the whole feeling. There was a brass band in the stands, see I never heard mariachi music, but this brass band used to play ... and after a couple years of watching these bullfights, I wanted to see if I could capture it in a record, in a sound." 

Alpert is the first to admit the Tijuana Brass was never a Latin group. The sound "had to do with the way I played trumpet and the songs that I chose to record." 

Or make that trumpets!

You see, Alpert notes that there was never a horn section. He just kept playing trumpet on more recording tracks for harmonies.

That multi-trumpet influence came by way of Les Paul and Mary Ford's record "How High the Moon." That record is influential for his multi-tracking, layering of sound. 

Alpert says, "I tried doing that at my little studio in my garage. I had two tape machines and I'd go from one machine to the other, layering the trumpet and I came up with this sound that was the genesis of the Tijuana Brass sound."

That sound can still be heard today. 

Herb Alpert still plays shows. His current stint is at Café Carlyle in New York City. 


From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI