John Scheinfeld is a critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker. Scheinfeld is known for Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary and The US vs John Lennon. His documentary resume has no borders covering all kinds of backgrounds. He has received several nominations, from Emmy, Grammy to Writers Guild Awards. Today he shares about the latest documentary being released, Herb Alpert Is…
Here’s the synopsis of the film:
Herb Alpert Is… a passionate and inspiring exploration of Alpert’s personal and creative journey that reveals the critical events, experiences and challenges that have shaped an extraordinary life and instilled deep within the Grammy-winning trumpeter the desire to make a difference each and every day. Colleagues ranging from Questlove to Sting to Bill Moyers bring their unique voices and perspectives to telling this remarkable story.
Herb Alpert, legendary musician, artist and philanthropist has sold more than 72 million albums – 29 of them gold or platinum – outsold The Beatles in 1966 and co-founded A&M Records. The most successful independent record company in history. Herb Alpert Is…, directed by John Scheinfeld, looks at Herb’s extraordinary life with rare footage and interviews with colleagues like Sting and Questlove.
I had a splendid phone conversation with John Scheinfeld. He shared the joy of making documentaries taking him back to his childhood.
Nancy Tapia: You have a history of doing so many documentaries. Awesome documentaries. Why Herb Alpert for this one?
John Scheinfeld: Well, you’re nice to say thank you. It’s all my mother’s fault. haha…
Nancy Tapia: Haha…
John Scheinfeld: When I was a kid, my mom used to play the music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and dance around the house. I saw this and certainly was taken by that. Also, this was very happy music. It was very upbeat, positive music that would put a smile on your face and make you feel good. So, Herb always had that connection for me. As I got older, I always had a little bit of Herb in my iTunes and in the car and all of that. When the opportunity came for me to make this film, of course I was interested just because I remembered that music. What an impact it had on me as a young person. But the more that I read about Herb Alpert the person, the more I felt this is a man to be celebrated.
This is a man who has lived a wonderful life, who has made the world a better place through his music, through his actions as a human being. This is very much a film worth making. It’s proven to be, the case for me with him is he’s a very inspiring, grounded, very authentic person. It was nice to be able to do that. I will also just make a joke in that mostly I do dead people (chuckles). So, it was very nice to be able to have a subject who is still here and functioning at a very high level.
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Nancy Tapia: Haha…yes. I’m laughing because that’s funny how you say that because it’s nice to have the artist you’re documenting about to give its take, its feedback and experience too.
John Scheinfeld: Very much so. The challenges of doing a documentary with someone who’s no longer here is that you do not have the opportunity to ask them to reflect back on anything. Or if you have a question about why this project, why that project, or what was this, or who was that person, or what were you thinking then. You can guess, or have other people perhaps talk about that. You don’t have the actual person, unless perhaps you have some interview footage with them that might’ve been recorded while they were still alive. But the big advantage with having a live subject is you can do all of those things and more. So it gave me the ability in Herb Alpert Is, to take Herb back to places that were instrumental, making the man and making the music.
We took him back to his elementary school. We took him back to the house in which he grew up. We took him back to the A&M studios lot and all of these. I just found that by taking him to these places, it put him in a place where he was kind of connecting with those old memories. he really opened up and revealed a lot of his personality and a lot of his thoughts on a wide range of subjects. For me, having that is a wonderful thing and helps make for a great film.
Nancy Tapia: Indeed. You also, in this documentary, not only we’re learning about Herb Alpert. We are also getting a little history of a big part of the music history when it comes to music of A&M studios.
John Scheinfeld: Yes, very much so. A lot of artists wear a couple of hats. Herb has at least five, haha…If not more.
Nancy Tapia: Haha…Right!
John Scheinfeld: One of them was an entrepreneur. He had the ambition and the foresight and the talents to take the success that he had with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and build on that. To create what is arguably the greatest independent record label in the history of the music business. In terms of the wide array of artists that were on the label. The wide array of classic music that was on that label and also to create an environment that allowed other artists to do their best work. I think that came from, as people will see in Herb Alpert Is, is he had some bad experiences with other record companies. He vowed that if he ever had his own, he would not make those mistakes and rather he would create an artist friendly label. That in fact is what he did.
Nancy Tapia: He did and brought some great artists. I don’t remember the exact quote, but there was something about how A&M had an unknown artists, but to-be known artist, right?
John Scheinfeld: Yes, that was Bill Moyers who said that in the film. And yes, very much so. Again, I think because Herb was an artist himself, he had a very good ear and eye for talent. Just as some examples in our film, he found The Carpenters who, except for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and maybe even more so, sold more records for A&M than any other artist. We have Quincy Jones talking about what a great label it was. We have Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam, great producers of hip hop music, talking about what an inspiration Herb was and how great it was to work for A&M. Then we have Sergio Mendes who Herb discovered. Sting who, although not discovered by Herb, The Police were very much nurtured by Herb. Then when Sting went off on his own, A&M was his home for most of his career and continues to be actually. So very special place and very much reflective of the co-founder.
Nancy Tapia: You also had a Billy Bob Thornton. Joined to give his experience growing up with Herb.
John Scheinfeld: Yes. Well, I think he, like many of us, has very fond memories of the record cover of Whipped Cream & Other Delights. Billy Bob tells a great story about it. But Nancy, in terms of my approach to filmmaking is I always like to have one or more people in one of my documentaries where people will say, “What the heck are they doing in this film?” Haha…
Nancy Tapia: Haha..
John Scheinfeld: And I’m sure someone’s going to say, “What is Billy Bob Thornton doing in a Herb Alpert film?” The truth is, like many of us, he was influenced greatly by Herb’s music as a kid. He made it his point to go to Herb concerts as an adult out here and they have become friendly. In fact, they’ve recorded together. We shot a little bit of them working together and we just didn’t have time for it in the film. That of course is always the challenge in filmmaking is you shoot far more good stuff than you have time for. It’s a bit like carving up your child to take things out, but sometimes it must be done.
Nancy Tapia: Well, you can throw it in, for the extras.
John Scheinfeld: Yes, there you go. It’s why bonus material was invented.
Nancy Tapia: Yes. Let’s talk a little bit about Whipped Cream & Other Delights. I thought maybe you would have Dolores Erickson. I don’t know if she’s still around. Last time I read something was maybe 10 years ago about her and her experience being the model of the cover.
John Scheinfeld: Yes, it was! People really remember that cover. Herb tells a joke in the film, in a concert setting where he talks about a guy coming up and he says, “That’s my favorite album of yours, and that cover was just like fantastic.” Herb says, “Oh, that’s great. What did you think of the music?” The guy says, “Well, I haven’t heard that yet.” Haha…That cover was so striking. It’s one of the great album covers of all time. We had talked to Dolores. She is in her late seventies now. She was going to come down to Los Angeles and we were going to shoot an interview with her to talk about that. We had actually a very interesting graphic sequence that we were going to build around it. Unfortunately she had some health issues and had to pass on coming down here. So we weren’t able to do it, but you were right to ask the question. We did intend to include her.
Nancy Tapia: Thank you…So now I can share my experience with Herb Alpert. When I was a kid, my aunt had all these eight track tapes that I was able to play as I pleased. Whipped Cream & Other Delights I remember being one of them. I actually called my aunt and I was like, “Remember this artist and the album cover?” She’s was like, “Oh yeah, I had it.” I was like, I knew it! So, just like you, I grew up with some of this music. I’m 39 so we’re talking about the time when I was five or six when I was over that aunts house all the time. I remember her playing this kind of music all the time and including Sergio Mendes. She would play Ray Conniff, she played Richard Clayderman, she had Mireille Mathieu. I’ve become a fan of yours because you are bringing some of those memorable childhood memories into my head.
John Scheinfeld: Oh, aren’t you nice. You can’t see me, but you’ve embarrassed me now. So, I’m turning red while you’re speaking.
Nancy Tapia: Well I’m holding my tears here it’s true. It’s one of those things you grow up with and are so vague now. You’ve kind of forgotten about. Then they come back as a sweet childhood memory.
John Scheinfeld: Well, for me, that’s the fun of what I do. I love my job. I get to go to interesting places and talk to interesting people about interesting things. I can’t imagine a better job than that. I also get to tell the stories of people whose work I have admired. So Herb is very much in there with John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, John Coltrane, Brian Wilson, The Bee Gees and many others. You mentioned Sergio Mendes, and I have also finished a film about Sergio that will be coming out later this year, early next year.
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Nancy Tapia: Yes, Sergio Mendes in the Key of Joy, right?
John Scheinfeld: Yes, Sergio Mendes in The Key of Joy and it’s another experience. I think it’s like your aunt. My mother also played Sergio in addition to Herb. So I was aware of both these artists growing up. They’re very different people, the music is very different. But they’re both inspiring artists. He inspired me as with the music and inspired me as human beings. It was great to work with them. To be able to tell the stories in a rich and textured way of some of these icons of whether there’s music or I did a documentary earlier this year on Gary Marshall, the writer, producer, director. It’s just a great joy and don’t we all need that in this time of COVID.
Nancy Tapia: Yes, we do, indeed. I did get a chance to see Sergio Mendes in the Key of Joy actually during his birthday bash at the Skirball Cultural Center in February.
John Scheinfeld: Oh, you were there? Oh, how nice!
Nancy Tapia: I bet you were there too. We missed each other, haha
John Scheinfeld: Haha, we did. Yeah, we were there We wanted to do that just for Sergio. The issue we had with both of these films, they’ve been done for a bit and we were going to be in theaters with Herb Alpert Is in May and for Sergio Mendes in the Key of joy, probably in April. Then the virus showed up on the scene and changed all of the plans. Now we’re sort of going with different models because theaters aren’t open. Film festivals aren’t going. With Herb, we’re trying this very new model of the distribution model of Facebook Live premiere, one night only, October 1st. Then it’ll be available on iTunes and Amazon prime and other places. I’m very proud of both these films and I really hope people will come see them and be as inspired by the music and the artists as I was.
Nancy Tapia: Well, I loved both! They both have this colorful style. Bringing a lively vibe and adds some joy of watching.
John Scheinfeld: Yes, they really do. Yeah, they’re very different. Herb is a quiet, thoughtful, bit of an introvert yet what he does is larger than life. Whether it’s creating the music we’ve talked about, or a song like Rise. Which was basically a hip hop song before that term was known or funk, before that term was known. With his philanthropy where in the last 10 years. He’s probably given away more than $150 million to arts and education programs across the country. Hoping to give a leg up to new generations of would-be artists, which is just a wonderful thing to do. Sergio is open, warm, funny, raconteur, tells great stories, loves his wine, loves his food, so he’s a real gourmet. So, it was a really interesting thing and they are good friends by the way. They have been ever since Herb discovered Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66. And so that’s been great also to be around all of them.
Nancy Tapia: And the connection, right, with Lani Hall?
John Scheinfeld: The connection with Lani Hall. Herb refers to Lani, his wife, as an angel who saved his life. We see in the film, Herb Alpert Is, exactly why that was. He met her when he discovered Sergio Mendes in Brazil ’66 and eventually a friendship turned into romance. A romance has turned into a 49 year old marriage and a very successful one. It’s wonderful to see them together. They’re really adorable together and nice to see.
Nancy Tapia: They do! It’s funny because I was watching and I’m like, wait a minute, I’ve seen this Lani, but I don’t know where.
John Scheinfeld: Haha..
Nancy Tapia: Then it dawned on me that she was part of the Brazil ’66 and then she’s the one that had left because she decided to marry. I was like, oh my gosh-
John Scheinfeld: Yes, exactly
Nancy Tapia: …the connection in my head, I was like, Oh my gosh, how did I not see this earlier? Haha..
John Scheinfeld: Haha…and just a great singer. Her work with Brazil ’66 and now she and Herb prior to the virus, are out touring and just a wonderful singer. But again, that’s what we were trying to do with Herb is to enable people to get to know him as a person and understand where the music came from. I don’t know about you, but I look around and I see feature films, TV series, mini series and other documentaries that are made these days. There seems to be far too many that are dark and depressing and apocalyptic and dystopian and edgy and gritty and I, for one am just tired of that.
Nancy Tapia: And a little repetitive.
John Scheinfeld: Yeah. I wanted to create both of these films and certainly Herb Alpert Is, I wanted to create a film that was really upbeat, uplifting, inspiring, nostalgic, fun, and inspiring. I hope that audiences will find this a great antidote for what’s going on in the world right now.
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Nancy Tapia: Yes and thank you so much. Like I said, I’ve enjoyed them. You’ve opened up this other part of my childhood that I had completely forgotten with these two artists. I have added them to my childhood playlist. Maybe you’ll do a documentary on Ray Conniff.
John Scheinfeld: Haha…
Nancy Tapia: He was a legend. I’m just throwing it out there, haha…
John Scheinfeld: I appreciate that. Well, who knows! I’ve got a new one I’m working on now. Which I actually can’t talk about yet because we haven’t announced it. Then I’m negotiating on another one, so it’s going to be fun. But you know, to hear you and thank you for all the kind words. But to hear you talk about how this touches on your childhood and other things is just great. That really is the power of film. Film can really impact people in that kind of way. I’m always delighted when I hear that my films have done that.
Nancy Tapia: They are! Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to seeing your future projects and maybe get to interview for those too.
John Scheinfeld: I look forward to that. Thanks for the interest and all the best to you in all things.
Nancy Tapia: To you too. Thank you so much. You take care.
John Scheinfeld: Yep, you too Nancy. Thank you.
Make sure to check out Herb Alpert Is… Worldwide Premier October 1st at 8PM ET / 5PM PT on all Herb Alpert channels. Learn more at www.herbalpertis.com
Available is select theater and VOD October 2nd
Stay current with John Scheinfeld’s documentaries on Instagram
Source: LRM Online Exclusive