“I picked up a trumpet.”
That’s what Herb Alpert did at age 8 in a music appreciation class.
It led to a career in music that began with selling millions of records as leader of the Tijuana Brass and later, as a partner in a record company. Alpert then used his success to make his marks in fine art and philanthropy.
“I’m having a better time now than I was 20 years ago,” Alpert said in a phone interview from his home in Malibu, Calif.
He and his wife, Grammy Award-winning vocalist Lani Hall, will perform at 8 p.m. March 4 at the Florida Theatre.
The couple met when Alpert and Jerry Moss, his partner in A&M Records, signed Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66 to a recording contract.
Hall recorded more than 22 albums in three languages: English, Portuguese and Spanish. She sang the title song for the 1983 James Bond film “Never Say Never Again.”
A&M Records was formed to release “The Lonely Bull,” a single that led to the label’s debut album of the same name that established Alpert as a performer and producer in the early 1960s.
That was his first hit, peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard chart in 1962. It was followed by “Lonely Bull Volume 2,” “South of the Border” and “Whipped Cream and Other Delights.”
By the end of the decade, Alpert and his band were firmly established — the fourth-largest-selling artists of the 1960s, behind Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Frank Sinatra.
After 28 albums over more than 50 years, Alpert’s resume includes 14 Top 40 singles, five No.#1 hits, 15 gold albums, and nine Grammy Awards.
Many more gold and platinum albums also went on the walls at A&M’s offices. The company produced hit records for Joe Cocker, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Carole King, The Police, The Human League, Peter Frampton, the Go-Gos, Bryan Adams, Amy Grant, Janet Jackson, Supertramp and Sheryl Crow, among others.
Alpert recalls one artist he let get away — by choice, not by mistake.
In 1964, A&M signed a then-unknown singer named Waylon Jennings with the idea he could become the next big pop music artist. “But he wanted to be more country,” said Alpert.
When they learned Jennings had conversations with legendary Nashville guitarist and producer Chet Atkins — and that Atkins invited Jennings for “a talk” when his contract with A&M expired in three years — Alpert and Moss released him.
“It gave me goose bumps because I knew he would be a big star,” said Alpert. “But we always looked at it from the artist’s point of view.”
Twenty-seven years after they started the label with one act, Alpert and Moss sold the company to PolyGram Records for $500 million.
In 2006, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Cashing out of the record business allowed Alpert to become a philanthropist, as well as an abstract painter and sculptor.
The Herb Alpert Foundation supports arts and education programs, dedicated to serving young people and supporting their creative energies.
Alpert said he wants others to have the same experience he had with music at an early age.
In 2007, Alpert and Hall donated $30 million to the University of California Los Angeles to establish and endow the Herb Alpert School of Music.
The couple also donated $24 million to California Institute of the Arts, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in the visual and performing arts.
Alpert paints and sculpts in his studio in Malibu.
His abstract expressionist canvases have been exhibited internationally and are part of the permanent collections of the MoCA Museum in Los Angeles and the Tennessee State Art Museum in Nashville.
An exhibit of his “spirit totem” bronze sculptures is on display through September at the High Museum in Chicago.
Alpert said he and Hall enjoy touring now more than when their names were on the Billboard charts each week.
Backed up by a small jazz combo, the show will include songs from Alpert’s 28th and latest release, “Come Fly with Me,” along with a Tijuana Brass medley and many of his solo hits.
Hall takes over the spotlight in a medley of songs she recorded with Brasil 66 and a few from her Grammy Award-winning solo album “Es Facil Amar.”
In between, Alpert said he likes to take a break to answer questions from the audience.
One question that always comes up isn’t about his music, but a famous album cover — 1965’s Whipped Cream & Other Delights.
The photograph, showing a young woman covered only with whipped cream, was described in a 2006 New Yorker magazine article as “in the virtually porn-less atmosphere of the suburban mid-sixties … the pinnacle of allure.”
He hopes the audience feels as good about what they hear at the show as he and Hall do about performing.
“I’m not faking it. I’m too old for that. I love to play and it gives me energy,” said Alpert, who will be 81 in March.
“I have been blessed.”