Vibrato Grill, the Jazz Club Owned by Musician Herb Alpert, Embarks on Its 16th Year

It’s instrumental.

It’s 10 in the morning on a Tuesday at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill. Although the supper club won’t open for seven hours, the kitchen is being prepped and the management team is fast at work. Herb’s daughter Eden is dealing with a pressing issue that she needs to discuss with her dad, who happens to be in New York City for a 10-day appearance at Café Carlyle.Although they are partners in the music venue/supper club tucked up in the swanky Beverly Glen Centre in the hills of Bel-Air, it is Eden who oversees the daily operation.

“I’m here all the time. I’m the face. I like to say he’s the magical creator and visionary, but I keep it in alignment with his authentic wishes,” Eden Alpert explains, adding that their mission is to maintain a venue that will “keep music and creativity alive.”

The name is an indisputable part of the club’s success. Nine-time Grammy Award winner Herb Alpert is one of the most successful pop instrumentalists and label executives in the industry. The musician was born in Boyle Heights to Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Though his first hit, “The Lonely Bull,” was inspired by music heard at a Tijuana bullfight, his famous 1960s group was not a mariachi band; it was made up of session musicians whom he has humorously described as “two lasagnas, two bagels and American cheese.”

Over his 60-year career as a musician, the trumpeter has sustained an extraordinary run. In 1966, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass sold more albums than the Beatles, and in the same year, earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records with five albums simultaneously in Billboard’s Top 20. He is #7 on the Greatest of All Time Billboard 200 Artists, with 29 gold and platinum albums, and is the only musician to have had a #1 instrumental song (“Rise”) and vocal single (his rendition of Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You”). He’s been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama. Fun fact: The band’s instrumental version of “Spanish Flea” was the theme song for ABC’s “The Dating Game.”

His career as a recording industry executive is equally prolific. It includes a partnership with producer Lou Adler, which spawned the hits “Only Sixteen” and “Wonderful World,” composed for the late soul singer Sam Cooke, and cofounding A&M Records in 1962 with Jerry Moss. From its beginnings in his West Hollywood garage, A&M grew to become the one of largest and most significant labels in music history, counting Cat Stevens, the Carpenters, Joe Cocker, the Police, Quincy Jones and Janet Jackson on its eclectic roster. The label was sold to Polygram in 1989 for $500 million. Two decades later, Rondor, A&M’s music publishing company, sold for $400 million. Both are now part of Universal Music.

Eden, who grew up in Beverly Hills and Malibu, insists she has zero musical talent, but has a keen ability to discover musicians, having spent several years working at Rondor prior to its sale. When Vibrato opened, Eden was, she shares, at an “in-between place” in her career, balancing her life as a single mom and working at the Glen Centre in a florist’s shop. She approached her dad about working as a hostess at Vibrato. Six months into the job, her dad suggested that she be his partner.

“Eden proved herself quickly. She has a talent for building relationships. She’s an integral part of suggesting talent and making sure the ambience and food is just right,” Herb says.

The pair describe themselves as complete opposites who respect and admire each other.

“He’s an extrovert on stage and an introvert in life. I’m an extrovert in every which way, so we balance each other,” Eden says with a little laugh.

“We are 180 degrees apart from each other in terms of personality,” confirms her dad, who refers to himself as a “card-carrying” introvert.

The 53-year-old attributes her problem-solving abilities to her dad, explaining that when she and her siblings were growing up “he’d immediately zoom in to help figure out how to work out whatever was going on.”

Eden, who is adopted, and her older brother Dore were born during their dad’s first marriage. Their half-sister, Aria, was born to her dad and Lani Hall, his wife of 46 years. A two-time Grammy winner herself, Lani met Herb when he signed Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 to A&M—and she was the lead singer.

Eden has a 24-year-old daughter from her first marriage and remarried a year ago. She and her husband live in the hills of Sherman Oaks.

THE ‘CHEERS’ OF BEL-AIR


As the face of Vibrato, Eden is on a first-name basis with many customers who are regulars and show up almost nightly.

“We’re the ‘Cheers’ of Bel-Air,” quips Eden. “People come in for cocktails, just to listen to music, or a full dinner. We’re known as a steakhouse, but have options for everyone,” citing cauliflower shawarma, whole branzino, lamb lollipops and sweet corn agnolotti as popular choices.

Years ago, Herb talked about opening a jazz club with the late Stan Getz, who was a “dear friend and one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. We were going to call it Uncle Stanley. Unfortunately, Stan passed away too soon.”

Herb worked side by side with Vincent Danoff, the acoustician who helped design the studio at A&M Records, over a period of two years to create Vibrato’s sound system, which is as “consistent upstairs as it is downstairs.” He compares the angled wood walls to that of a cello “with a beautiful human quality. It’s important not to have parallel walls because in any environment, it is going to make a funny little bouncing sound. I wanted to make sure it was one of those spaces where musicians come on stage, hear their instrument and know it’s a good sound.”

“I get my energy from performing with the band. It’s a creative experience every night. I think that’s the thing that keeps me jumping, man.”

THE VIBRATO VIBE


Herb’s artistic talents extend beyond music. He is an accomplished sculptor and painter, and Vibrato, you might say, serves as his gallery. The abstract expressionist works of art on the club’s walls are all his. A bronze quartet of jazz musicians, commissioned for A&M Records, hangs above the long L-shaped bar. Holding court at the entrance is a 14-foot painting bursting with vibrant yet earthy tones. It once hung above his late friend’s fireplace—he calls it “Uncle Stanley.”

The intimate 100-seat dining room is anchored by a half-moon stage large enough to hold a grand piano and an 18-piece band. A bold painting with swirls of gray, black and white sets the mood, while the 40-seat upstairs lounge provides a perfect bird’s-eye view. Amber hues filter down from the ceiling pods to tables topped with black linen and candles. Herb explains the pods were built to “disperse the sound as part of the acoustic treatment. They look good and they have a purpose. It’s a nice combination.”

Among those who’ve graced the stage: Idina Menzel, Sheila E., Taylor Dayne, Katharine McPhee, Tony Bennett and Wayne Brady. Regular performers include Steve Tyrell, Amy Keys, Frankie Jordan and Seth MacFarlane.

Gladys Knight celebrated her 75th birthday with a red carpet bash in October. And in November music producer Quincy Jones held a benefit headlined by Chaka Khan for the Jazz Foundation of America honoring Joni Mitchell and Wayne Shorter.

Over the years, guests have popped up to jam. John Mayer recently hopped on stage to sing with frequent performer Brenna Whitaker—as did Tom Jones. And Stevie Wonder has made repeat impromptu appearances.

Herb reminisces about when the late jazz great Dave Brubeck did a rare spur-of-the-moment performance.

“It was an amazing aha moment for me. He was 88 or 89 at the time and schlepped up on stage looking like he was going to fall over at any moment, but then sat down at the piano and played like a teenager. And then when he was done, he schlepped back off. I thought, ‘Man, isn’t that beautiful how the arts can stimulate a person and make them feel like there was no age attached.’”

AN ARTIST’S LIFE


Listen to Herb count down his interests and schedule, and you can’t help but think that a life in the arts somehow taps the fountain of youth. Turning 85 in March, he shows no signs of slowing down.

He wakes up at the crack of dawn at his Malibu home and starts riffing on the trumpet—followed by painting or sculpting. Canvases are filled with bold strokes of color using an improvisational method similar to how he creates music, and the same goes for his totem sculptures inspired by those at Vancouver’s Stanley Park. But his are free-form versions made of bronze in varying sizes, topping out at a majestic 18 feet. He has exhibited worldwide and currently has shows at the Field Museum in Chicago, the Wynn Palace Macau in China, the National Wildlife Museum of Art in Wyoming and Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage.

Herb describes art as coming from a “feeling—whether you’re a poet, a dancer, musician, painter, sculptor, it doesn’t really matter. If the feeling resonates and it comes through, it’s worthy.”

Since 2006, he’s played 50 concert dates a year with his band, which includes Lani Hall and Grammy-winning bassist Hussain Jiffry—who is also the musical director at Vibrato and responsible for booking acts. The group’s latest album, “Over the Rainbow,” released last September, debuted on the Billboard chart as #1 Jazz Album and #1 Contemporary Jazz Album. Upcoming appearances include Santa Barbara’s historic Granada Theatre on February 28 and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London this June.

“I get my energy from performing with the band. It’s a creative experience every night. I think that’s the thing that keeps me jumping, man. I’m excited about waking up in the morning—I paint, I sculpt … I can’t imagine not doing it.”

PAYING IT FORWARD


Eden remembers her dad telling her early on that most of his money will go toward helping others.

She follows his lead of giving back, most notably to Vista Del Mar, a social services and educational foundation founded in 1908 as the Jewish Orphan’s Home of Southern California, where she was adopted as an infant. She started volunteering at a young age alongside her Aunt Mimi, and now sits on the board of the Eden Alpert Therapeutic Music Program. She recently facilitated a fundraising event with Seal.

“I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for Vista. I have to be hands-on with helping anyone, especially when it comes to children.”

Through The Herb Alpert Foundation, Herb and Lani have dedicated their lives to championing the arts for all ages, awarding $180 million over the last several decades. Among programs funded in his name: UCLA School of Music, Los Angeles City College, Harlem School of the Arts, New Roads School and CalArts.

His passion for supporting the arts is inspired by his childhood, when at age 8 he picked up a trumpet in a music appreciation class. “I couldn’t make a sound out of it at first, but when I did, it was talking for me, and I was hooked,” shares Herb. Describing himself as shy, he says the trumpet gave him a voice.

“Kids should have experience in the arts at an early age just like I did, and it shouldn’t be a privilege—it should be a right. I think our government should understand the value of the arts,” he states. “I’m just looking for a life of purpose and honesty. I’ve been very lucky, so I just want to show my gratitude and help others to keep the arts alive.”

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