Trumpeter Herb Alpert Wants to Take Jazz to "the Next Level"

Koury Angelo
From left: Eric Miller, Josh Johnson, Miro Sprague, Diego Urbano, Alpert, Dave Robaire, Mike Cottone and Jonathan Pinson

In THR's Philanthropy Issue, the co-founder of A&M Records talks about his hands-on involvement at the UCLA music school built in his name

This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

"I didn't want to see my money hanging on my wall by buying some painting that belongs in a museum," says Herb Alpert. "I wanted to see what I could do."

Turns out he could do a lot. The renowned 79-year-old trumpet player (and co-founder of A&M Records) donated $30 million in 2007 to build a music school at UCLA in his name, the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, which two years ago launched its first graduate curriculum for jazz professionals in partnership with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. A portion of Alpert's endowment helps pay for full two-year scholarships to the new master's program, which in June graduated its very first batch of seven musicians. "Jazz really needs to evolve," Alpert tells THR during a visit to the classroom. "A lot of artists are playing what has already been played. We're taking it to the next level."

Alpert, by the way, isn't just cutting checks for the school; he is involved in selecting the class members, along with UCLA professor Kenny Burrell and fellow music greats and sometime guest lecturers Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Alpert also has been known to do some hands-on mentoring of his own. During a visit to the school in May, he offered the students some golden advice: "Keep it honest," he told the soon-to-be graduates. "Don't judge or compare yourself against Charlie Parker or any of the great musicians. Be yourself. That's the goal. You don't want to be like any of those guys, anyway. They already did it. Find another way to say it. That's the big win."

Clearly it's a lesson not lost on the young musicians. "I feel like I've got enough inspiration for the rest of my life," says trombonist Eric Miller. "Every day something somebody said [in class] clicks. You think, 'Oh, now I understand.' It could be something they said two years ago — it resonates." 

Go here to find out more about the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and make a donation.

Read more from THR's Philanthropy Issue here.

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