Herbert and The Bullfight

Agnes De Mille once wrote,

No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently.

Agnes was right about most of us, but she was completely wrong about Herbert.

Herbert sculpts and paints. Abstract expressionism is his thing.

It’s like jazz,” he says. “Art is a feel. I like to journey into a world where words don’t exist.

Edgar “Yip” Harburg, the lyricist who wrote Judy Garland’s wistful Somewhere Over the Rainbow, once made a similar observation.

Words make you think thoughts.
Music makes you feel a feeling.
But a song makes you feel a thought.

But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The story of Herbert and the bullfight begins in 1930, when Louis, a mandolin-playing Ukrainian Jewish tailor, comes to America and falls in love with Tillie Goldberg on New York’s Lower East Side. They get hitched, move to L.A. and have two little boys and a girl.

In 1955, first-son David is a well-known drummer and second-son Herbert is a trumpet player in the marching band at USC. Daughter Mimi is learning to play piano.

In 1962, Herbert is in the garage recording a trumpet song called “Twinkle Star” when he decides to take a break and drive to Mexico. He recently told the story on CBS Sunday Morning.

Tijuana had some world-class matadors, and this trumpet section in the stands, you know, they would announce the different programs, the different events in the bullfight. “Ta-Dahh! Pa-Da Dattle-Da-Dattle Da-Dahhh. I got kind of, uh, chill bumps from all that stuff and I tried to translate the feelings of those afternoons to a song.

Herbert returns home, flavors “Twinkle Star” with the soft and spicy taste of a Tijuana afternoon, and renames it, “The Lonely Bull.”

He mails his record to some radio stations and the song becomes a Top Ten hit.

Encouraged, Herbert hires some other musicians to play alongside him. Their exotic, jazzy groove is often described as “blithe, Latin-over-lilt,” so it’s easy to understand why everyone thinks Herb and his boys are Hispanic. But not one of them has a drop of Spanish blood. Herb describes his band as, “four lasagnas, two bagels, and an American cheese.” Audiences know them as “Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.”

In 1966, they sold more records than the Beatles.

Herbert goes on to score five No. 1 hits, 15 gold albums, 14 platinum albums and win eight Grammy Awards. No one but Herb has ever had 4 albums simultaneously in the Top 10.

Seventy-two million record albums is quite a few to sell, don’t you think?

But Herbert is just getting started.

Immediately following the success of The Lonely Bull, he convinces Jerry Moss to become his business partner. Alpert and Moss produce and distribute their fantastically successful Tijuana Brass albums under their own record label, A&M.

In 1969, Herb discovers a brother/sister duo that becomes fantastically successful as well: Richard and Karen Carpenter. Soon A&M is producing 400 different bands and artists, many of whom will see the stars align to spell their names in the midnight sky.

In 1989, Herb sold A&M Records to Polygram for 500 million dollars.

And it all began
when the son of a Ukranian tailor
decided to push himself beyond his comfort zone
and go on a road trip to Mexico.

Roy H. Williams