The Herb Alpert Movie

By David Barras, Guest Contributor

My parents bought Herb Alpert’s Going Places! when it was released, so it was always around the house during my childhood. I remember my fascination with the cover. The colorful, biplane with a “TJB Express” sign, the innocent sexuality of a maid reclining on the wing and Alpert grinning broadly, with his white scarf flowing behind him create a ridiculous picture. Today, it might be easy to simply dismiss this photo as sexist. But if you consider the absurdity of the premise and Alpert’s wide grin that lets you in on the joke, you can help but laugh, in spite of your more sophisticated, enlightened attitudes.

Going Places!, 1965

For years, Herb Alpert was a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine because I always considered “Tijuana Taxi” and “Spanish Flea” to be novelty songs. In recent years, though, I’ve listened more closely and now appreciate the musicianship of the band, the arrangements of the songs and the way Alpert makes the songs he covers his own. Unfortunately, even though I’m trying to judge Alpert’s music only on its artistic merits, my love of the culture of the 1960s keeps getting me sidetracked. I have to ask myself — why was there never a movie produced staring Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass? I remember watching Elvis’ movies on TV on Saturday afternoons, and wonder why the same formula was never applied to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass? He had some chart success. He had leading man looks. One could even argue his music was the soundtrack for the period with it’s presence on television programs and commercials.

It would have gone something like this. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in Going Places!

Herb Alpert and the band play themselves. An actor plays their manager, a greedy, nervous fellow who, while out to protect the goose that laid the golden egg, still cares about “his boys”. This character is easily flustered as the band faces the trials ahead and provides excellent comic relief. Herb Alpert plays himself as a confident, tough and capable leader of the band who, though he takes his music seriously, still has a sense of humor and plays by his own rules, much to the chagrin of his manager.

What Now My Love, 1966

The movie opens at a party where it’s being announced that Alpert and the band will be playing a benefit concert for a children’s charity. A young bratty millionaire is in attendance who becomes jealous of the attention the band is receiving. After he has a confrontation with Alpert at the party, the young millionaire bets Alpert that he and his band can’t cross Mexico north to south and back again in time to play the charity event the next week. A condition of the bet is that they must be self-sufficient without assistance from anyone back in the states. If they win, the millionaire donates $50,000 to the charity. If they lose, the band must perform a Lawrence Welk style show, potentially ruining their careers. Alpert, seeing this as a matter of pride and an opportunity to present the charity with a boon, accepts the challenge.

Whipped Cream & Other Delights, 1965

Unbeknownst to them, the young millionaire is following them, attempting sabotage at every opportunity. He’s successful as soon as they enter Mexico, making the band’s tricked-out tour bus crash and injure their driver Speed, who used to be on the demolition derby circuit. All seems lost until they spot a noisy, run-down tour bus driven by Bill Dana in character as Jose Jimenez. The band pools the last of their cash to hire his services. Unfortunately, they still need cash for food, gas and lodging for a week long trip. According to the terms of the bet, they can’t wire home for cash, so they have no alternative but to play every cantina and night club in which their manager can book them.

The Beat Of The Brass, 1968

This is where the movie really takes off with many opportunities for comedy and music; a rehearsal session on the bus, an impromptu song for a group of kids playing around a fountain in a town square and, of course, a sunset walk on the beach with a “señorita” while Alpert sings “This Guy’s in Love with You”. He promises to return to her town one day, and we’re left wondering and hoping.

Following the formula Hal Wallis established for Elvis, the climax is a fight where Alpert must prove himself worthy of leading man status. The band is one day away from the concert and well within driving range. Unfortunately, their bus’ water pump, fuel pump and suspension were all blown during a speedy escape from a gang of motorcycle banditos who misunderstood a band member’s intentions towards their leader’s sister.

Herb Alpert’s Ninth, 1967

To pay for the repairs, they must play one final gig in Tijuana. After the performance, though, the cantina owner, a big, ugly piece of work, refuses to pay. Alpert stands up to him, saying “Either The Brass and I get our money, or you and I are going to have a problem.” The owner throws a punch which Alpert easily dodges, “El Garbanzo” starts playing and the whole bar starts fighting. Alpert takes on the tough leading man role as the band fights the owner’s goons with various comedic shenanigans. The bartender ducks behind the bar and takes advantage of the situation by reaching up from his hiding place, grabbing bottles of liquor so he can get some free drinks. Completely by accident, he grabs bottles just as they are about to be hit by flying chairs or glasses. After beating the owner to submission, Alpert collects the band’s pay and they’re able to pay for the repairs to the bus.

“Either The Brass and I get our money, or you and I are going to have a problem.”

Spanish Flea, 45rpm single, 1966

There’s one final hitch at the border crossing when a nearsighted border patrol officer (a brilliant cameo by Don Knotts) doubts the band’s US citizenship. While the manager argues with the officer, the band takes out their instruments and begins playing “Spanish Flea”. The officer is beside himself with joy, exclaiming that he’s their biggest fan. He lets them pass, nodding his head and saying “What a swell bunch of fellas” as the bus drives across the border.

The band takes to the stage just under the deadline and performs “A Taste of Honey” to an enthusiastic crowd. The millionaire is pulling his hair out during the performance, but is kept from escaping by the manager. After the concert, the millionaire’s father arrives and it is revealed that the kid has no money of his own. The father, a fan of the band, honors the bet and his son is forced to pay off the debt by working as the band’s roadie. Bill Dana (Jose Jimenez) is now the band’s permanent driver since their old driver decides it would be safer to return to the demolition derby circuit. Tijuana Taxi plays over the closing credits as we see the rich kid trying to load the band’s equipment on the bus, tripping and dropping cases.

A Taste Of Honey, 45rpm single, 1965

I could easily convince myself that I had seen this movie on TV on a Saturday afternoon in the 1970s when it was too rainy to play outside. I can see the old bus careening down a dirt road to “Mexican Road Race” or the band playing “Bittersweet Samba” at an upscale night club in Mexico City. If you close your eyes and listen closely, you can see the imagery inherent in these songs. I know there are trumpeters with greater technical ability, but when I listen to Alpert, his playing sounds deliberate, like he’s making conscious choices to create visual imagery and emotion.

Maybe it’s best this movie was never filmed. In a way, it never needed to be. No doubt the original print would be faded and in need of restoration. The advantage to Alpert’s music, though, is that today, its vibrant Technicolor images are as pristine as they were when he recorded them over 40 years ago. Anything else might be a distraction.

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A Houston House of Jazz

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

An unassuming mid-century bungalow in southwest Houston holds a jazz horde to be reckoned with. Local musician, photographer and jazz aficionado, Lindy Pollard, has turned his small but tasteful home into a living jazz museum. Some 5,000 titles grace his walls in custom-built shelving installed by the owner and his brother. Upon entering this treasure trove a visitor is oftentimes overwhelmed at the sheer volume. His collection spans decades as well as formats. Pollard will occasionally spin an LP but the bulk of his collection is of the compact disc variety. As neat and precise as the surroundings with its modern appointments, each album is arranged alphabetically by artist and is easily accessible. Pollard is quite literally ensconced in jazz whenever he sits to listen to one of his recordings or play with his cats. Seven-foot tall, vintage Klipsch speakers anchor his living room and offer a surround sound experience to be coveted by any audiophile. It’s safe to say this Houston native will never run out of things to listen to. His musical tastes run the gamut, from Brazilian jazz to vintage ECM releases to hard bop staples. Row upon row of out-of-print and rare releases sit waiting for an eager listener to happen by. Just standing amidst the volumes makes a jazzophile feel anxious.

Upon entering this treasure trove a visitor is oftentimes overwhelmed at the sheer volume.

Pollard’s dining room, one of many rooms surrounded by his massive collection.

Having grown up in the 50s Pollard has held such virtuosos as Paul Desmond and Sonny Stitt in high regard. As we talked about the artists that fill his walls, he fondly remembers attending a Paul Desmond concert as a young sax student back in 1963. He recalls racing a classmate backstage to grab one of Desmond’s used reeds — one man’s treasure. His enthusiasm for jazz hasn’t wained one bit over the years. Having so many titles at his disposal helps to maintain a learning environment. “There’s always something new on a recording you haven’t heard before,” Pollard points out.

Agharta, 1975. Miles Davis is a staple in Pollard’s collection.

Aside from being a long-standing Bayou City multi-reedist Pollard is also an accomplished jazz photographer and graphic artist. Boasting several hundred originals, he has attended countless venues showcasing some of the most notable icons in the history of the genre. Many images catch artists in candid and even reflective poses. Artists such as Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Duke Ellington are only some of the mainstays you’ll see in his portfolio. His love for the artform is apparent in his attention to detail — each shot a special moment in jazz history. His photos have been exhibited at local galleries over the years to much acclaim. As of recent, Pollard has taken up nature photography as well. With trips to state parks, and even to his own backyard, he has begun to fill new photo albums with his boyish love of nature.

Despite being ensconced by CDs, Pollard still likes to spin vinyl.

Having visited this personal jazz vault several times over the years I never tire at slowly perusing the titles, wishing today’s circumstances would still allow me to do the same at local retail outlets—those were the days.

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Jazz and the Hunt

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Never say never, or so I quickly learned one humid, summer afternoon at a used book store in southwest Houston.

Something In The Wind, 1969

I seldom get the opportunity to thumb through used record bins these days, so stumbling upon a collector’s item would almost seem out of the question. Defying all odds, I discovered something priceless — a worn-out LP copy of a 1969 The Winter Consort release, Something In The Wind. I know what you’re thinking — a dime a dozen. Well, this one was different. It was priced at only a dollar, hiding between tattered releases by Wendy (Walter) Carlos and Tony Orlando in a neglected clearance bin. Right off I was drawn to the thought-provoking photo of Paul Winter on the cover, proudly standing in a forest, dwarfed by a giant, emerald canopy — not unlike something out of the Jethro Tull catalog. Turning it over I noticed some scribbling on the back cover. I immediately jumped to conclusions, wondering why people are so careless with their LPs. Upon closer inspection I noticed it was a collection of autographs, each band member having signed their name and some including their respective instrument. Included in this group was the remarkable sitarist, and long-deceased, Collin Walcott. The wheels in my head were spinning out of control. How did this end up here of all places and in my hands? I felt as if I just found the Holy Grail tucked away in a dumpster behind a Taco Bell. And the kicker—all this for a dollar? That’s all I needed, off I went. I think I may have skipped to the register to purchase this small piece of jazz memorabilia.

Something In The Wind, 1969. Autographed back cover.

It was priced at only a dollar, hiding between tattered releases by Wendy (Walter) Carlos and Tony Orlando in a neglected clearance bin.

Driving home with my treasure stowed safely out of harm’s way, I wondered how many more gems might still be out there — wasting away in written-off clearance bins or dusty attics. There’s no telling, but one thing’s for certain — you don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of laying your mitts on one without getting out there and looking under some rocks. Happy hunting!

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