Herb Alpert can be viewed as music’s Renaissance man in more ways than one.
For starters, there’s more than just his music. “I’m a right brain guy,” he said in an interview from his southern California home. “I paint, do some sculpture, blow the horn.”
Then there’s Alpert’s new album, “Come Fly With Me,” which, based on early reviews, is being seen as a late-career highlight. “I’ve been getting great feedback,” Alpert said.
The album, to be released Friday, features, in addition to the title song made famous by Frank Sinatra, the standards “Blue Skies,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” the Beatles’ “Something” and seven tunes written by Alpert.
“I just do songs that please me to play,” Alpert said. He looks, though, for a way to give even well-known covers a touch of his own style.
“‘Come Fly With Me,’ when I hear the Sinatra version, and I like it a lot, it’s generic. I thought, ‘I’m going to take you on a trip.’ And I put on the pans and steel drums, and it feels like it,” he said.
In the case of “Something,” written by George Harrison, who recorded for Alpert’s A&M label, post-Beatles, Alpert decided to keep things simple. “I think it’s one of the most memorable songs the Beatles recorded,” he said. “I always like to play the melody. I was thinking of the lyrics as I was playing. I said, ‘Don’t try to be fancy.'”
Alpert, 80, who will perform with his wife, singer Lani Hall, Oct. 2 in Rochester, could apply that same mantra to his current concert show. He performs with a trio, rather than the kind of brass-heavy lineup that he used with the Tijuana Brass in the ’60s. The setup gives Alpert and the musicians — drums, bass and keyboard — room to roam.
“We do a Tijuana Brass medley, and Lani does a Brazil ’66 medley, and sandwiched between all that is a spontaneous group free to express themselves in any way they choose,” he said. “It’s kind of a jazz set.”
Alpert experienced worldwide success with the Tijuana Brass, including “A Taste of Honey” and “Tijuana Taxi,” but his biggest hit, “This Guy’s in Love with You,” was released under his name only.
Hall was the lead vocalist for Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66, including on the hits “The Look of Love” and “The Fool on the Hill.”
It was while traveling with the Tijuana Brass that Alpert developed his love of fine arts. “When we started touring around the world, I started going to museums,” he said. “I’m crazy about art. There’s a mystery in art that’s really seductive, and the mystery is that you can’t put your finger on why you like it.”
In recent years, Alpert and Hall have donated tens of millions of dollars to music education programs. Both UCLA and the California Institute of Arts have a Herb Alpert School of Music in his honor.
“I was given a great opportunity when I was 8 years old in elementary school,” Alpert said. “There was a table filled with various instruments. I picked up a trumpet and tried to make a sound out of it. Eventually I did. The trumpet was speaking for me because I was so shy.
“But a lot of kids don’t have that opportunity today. Arts and music programs are few and far between now in public schools. When kids can express themselves, they can express their uniqueness.”
Having accomplished to much as a musician, artist and philanthropist, Alpert has little left to prove. He can simply enjoy making music for audiences on his current concert tour.
“I like to play the horn; I like to listen to my wife sing,” he said.