Former record industry mogul Jerry Moss — the “M” in A&M Records, the label that he and Herb Alpert started in the early 1960s — got a partial payback for all the faith he put in artists during that company’s decades-long run in the form of a tribute concert Saturday night at the Mark Taper Forum, hosted by producer David Foster and laden with performances from artists including Dionne Warwick, Peter Frampton and Amy Grant.
The thanks were two-fold — celebrating his three-decade history running A&M until he and Alpert sold the label in the early ’90s, but, more up to the moment, his largess in devoting a substantial portion of his wealth to downtown L.A.’s Music Center. “Simply said, Jerry is a giving and generous human being,” Foster said in the evening’s opening remarks. “As a case in point, in 2020, he and his wife Tina made a gift of $25 million to the Music Center right here. They renamed the plaza after him. They should, for 25 million bucks!” Foster added, going slightly off-script for a few seconds.
Beyond being a music-biz giant and philanthropist, Moss, 87, has had a third life, of sorts, albeit one that came up for only quick mention in the proceedings: as a highly successful racing horse owner. Sting brought it up during a pre-taped speech that was shown, and he, of all people, had good reason to. The singer-songwriter said he was gratified “by the fact that you named some of your best horses” after Police recordings — including a champion named Zenyatta — or, in at least one famous case, Police offspring. “You named Giacomo after my third son, and he won the Kentucky Darby as a rank outsider,” Sting recalled. “Trudie (Styler) and I put a thousand dollars on that horse, and we’re still living on the takings.”
Sting’s family did not go unrepresented at the gala, as another son, Joe Sumner, showed up in person to sing his father’s “Walking on the Moon.” Others who performed at the benefit concert included Morgan James, the lead singer for Post-Modern Jukebox, who did a medley of Carpenters favorites; singer and stage actress Nova Payton, who did two numbers that were hits toward the end of Moss’ A&M reign, Janet Jackson’s “Escapade” and CeCe Peniston’s “Finally”; and young jazz singer Darynn Dean, who represented the Music Center educational programs’ legacy as a winner of the org’s Spotlight Awards.
Aside from Sting (who sang “Message in a Bottle” as part of his salute), others providing video messages included Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega (who offered an a cappella snippet of “Tom’s Diner”), Yusuf (aka Cat Stevens), Bad Company/Free vocalist Paul Rodgers and former A&M exec Jim Guerinot. Rita Coolidge turned up for an in-person testimonial, as well.
A small orchestra and band accompanied many of the live performers during the just-over-90-minute program, although a couple of the rockers on hand did without the string section. One of these was Frampton, who got one of a couple standing ovations during the show for a guitar-solo-filled 11-minute version of “Do You Feel Like We Do,” one of the most popular songs from one of A&M’s biggest-selling albums, 1976’s blockbuster “Frampton Comes Alive.”
Frampton performed seated, as he has at recent dates on what he has billed as a farewell tour, due to his Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM) condition. But if he is sometimes unsteady on his feet, there was no indication of that in his voice or hands as he delighted the crowd with the epic oldie, which about two-thirds of the way in found him breaking out his famous talkbox effect, including electronically enhanced musical phrasings of “I want to thank Jerry,” and other greetings.
After his performance, Frampton cheerfully added, “I’ll just quickly say that when we met this afternoon here… Jerry asked me, ‘Are you gonna play?’ I said, yeah. Ever the A&R guy, he said, ‘You gonna gimme some new music?’ So I said, ‘Jerry, it’s coming. It’s coming. I promise you. Don’t put me on suspension again.'”
Following an orchestral overture of A&M hits, Grant turned in the first vocal performance of the night, with “I Will Remember You,” a ballad that has become an anthem of commemorative or valedictory events since she recorded it for the label in 1991. Grant was seen by millions recently as she was feted herself on the “Kennedy Center Honors” program, but like other honorees there, she did not sing or even speak at the event — just looked beatific in the balcony — so for anyone who’d watched that broadcast, this almost amounted to a “Garbo speaks” moment. “Jerry, thank you so much for empowering the music and empowering all of us to be a part of your legacy,” Grant said before launching into her number.
Another standing ovation went to Warwick’s reading of “Alfie,” which was not quite the climactic number but effectively served as a climax to the evening, in its own tender, balladic way. “Alfie” was not actually an A&M release, nor was Warwick signed to the label, yet it seemed a fitting enough choice, given that, as much as it’s identified with the singer, it’s just as much associated with songwriter Burt Bacharach, who in his early recording career was a core A&M artist.
Bacharach was supposed to join Alpert for a musical performance of “This Guy’s in Love,” Alpert revealed, and they had apparently even rehearsed it, but Bacharach, 94, was not able to make it in the end. Alpert ended up giving it a vocal go on his own, with audience participation.
Foster also sang during the evening, between hosting duties, performing snippets of his greatest hits as a producer-writer, even as he acknowledged that “following Peter Frampton is not a good idea. My vocal skills are up there with Burt Bacharach’s. Or worse. But it does tie into a personal story with Jerry.”
Foster told the somewhat embarrassing tale of how, as a young man just enjoying the first flush of success, after having been responsible for the hits “After the Love Has Gone” and “Got to Be Real” as the ’70s turned over to the ’80s, he went to Moss’ office to take a meeting, in a mood of hubris. “This is 1980, so we’re going back 43 years. I went into his office, and he was classy as usual. He said, ‘Can we do something together?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, I’d like to be a staff producer for A&M Records.’ He said, ‘Well, that sounds great because it sounds like you’ve got some things going on. What kind of a deal would you like to make?’ I don’t know why I said this, but I swear to you, I said, ‘I’d like $2 million a year.’ It might have been the only time that he wasn’t classy. Well, he still was. But he just sort of stood up and indicated that the meeting was over. We went our separate ways…” About a decade alter, Foster relayed, when they’d reconvened as friends, “Jerry said, ‘Remember when you came to see me in 1980 and you asked for $2 million a year?… Why didn’t you tell me that you were gonna be David Foster?”
Money also came up in somewhat facetious fashion early in the tribute show, which, for the top-tier ticket holders, came with a reception before and a dinner after the concert. “How are you guys enjoying yourselves? And it only cost some of you, like, 50 grand, 100 grand?” (Ticket packages for the benefit actually bottomed out at around $1300.)
On a more serious level, Foster was charged with explaining some of how Moss’ philanthropy has already made a difference at the Music Center. “Jerry Moss Plaza offers performances and hands-on arts experiences, as well as the opportunity to come together and share actively or passive in dialogue about important civil issues. It is the heart of the Music Center’s campus,” he said.
Rachel Moore, the Music Center’s president-CEO, further elaborated: “Tina and Jerry have joined our quest to innovate for future generations and support our vision to deepen the cultural lives of all Angelenos all year long and all over L.A. County, we impact lives through the arts. Tens of thousands of people enjoy free and low cost experiences on Jerry Moss Plaza and in Grand Park. Over 150,000 students and their families experience the learning programs in schools and neighborhoods. And through our Spotlight program, which you’ll hear a little bit more about later, we provide opportunities for artistic and career development, mentorship and scholarships to more than 1400 young adults every year.”
That program came into focus with the introduction of ballet superstar Misty Copeland, who in 1990 at age 15 won the Music Center’s Spotlight competition just across the plaza at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
“This incredible program provides participants with scholarships, audition workshops, and masterclasses taught by industry professionals, whether students go on to become the next Pavarotti, Yo-Yo Ma or Beyonce,” Copeland said. “The Music Center Spotlight Program also provides students with life skills such as courage, critical thinking, and perseverance. Back then, when my dreams of becoming a dancer were just starting to be formed, the encouragement and support of the Music Center was invaluable to me, and it does not escape me that we are here tonight honoring Jerry Moss, who with his generous gift to the Music Center has ensured that this institution provides an infrastructure support to our community, to our artists and beyond.”
Also representing the Spotlight program was Darynn Dean, who placed in the spotlight competition from 2013-2015 and has gone on to sing in venues from the Kennedy Center in to the adjacent Walt Disney Concert Hall. “I remember when I was applying and I was scrolling through the website and I was like, who’s done the program? And I saw Misty Copeland,” Dean said, in noting the passing of torches.
When the attention was turned on Moss and not the Music Center, a common theme emerged, of artist-forwardness. Said Sting in his testimonial video, “You (Moss and Alpert) both had a dream, and that dream was realized by trusting the artists that you signed, trusting their instincts, and that became one of the most successful companies in the history of music. And of course we benefitted from that. And then when you left that business, you took up horse racing with the same degree of judgment and, of course, comic luck.”
Said Rita Coolidge, who did not perform but spoke in Moss’ honor, “At the end of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, I was offered a record deal with A&M Records. For any artist at that time, the label was a dream to be signed to. It was a label that was driven by music, not by business; by artist support, not by a one-hit wonder. It was just an amazing place to be. And when I signed with A&M, Jerry actually said to me, ‘We’re in this for the long haul. If you get a hit record right away, that’s great. If not, we want the longevity to help you build your career.’ … Nobody did it before and nobody’s done it since, and I’m eternally grateful, as Peter (Frampton, who preceded her) is, for my whole life.”
Cat Stevens/Yusuf sent in a video, saying that in their heyday together in the 1970s, “You were very easygoing. And I suppose that’s natural, because, you know, we were selling lots of records,” he added, getting a laugh at the idea that Moss’ good nature could have been strongly situational. “You are a great guy, Jerry. And you know, we did something, and I think we’re still doing something today. I really really hope that we can meet again. That’s possibly if I have enough patience to go through U.S. immigration, or else you’re welcome to come to Dubai. I love you, Jerry… Peace be with you.”
Alpert’s own speech provided plenty of context. “I don’t think I would’ve had the musical career that I’ve had without Jerry Moss. I knew how to make records, but I didn’t know what to do with them. Jerry did. He sure did,” said the trumpeter-painter-mogul.
Soon after they met and became friends at the beginning of the 1960s, he said, they cemented their friendship with frequent trips to Tijuana. “There was a brass band in the stands there that I really kind of had a feeling for,” explained Alpert. “It wasn’t a mariachi band, it was just a band that would introduce the different events; the bull would run out and they’d come up with another fanfare. I said, wow, I’d like to be able to make a record that would (reference) that afternoon in Tijuana. And I found this song called ‘Twinkle Star’ and it turned into ‘The Lonely Bull,'” his — and as a business team, their — breakthrough top 10 hit, as they established what was then Carnival Records but quickly got renamed A&M.
“Jerry got some distributors, and this record took off like a rocket ship. And our distributors said, you guys ought to just take the money and run, because you got lucky with this instrumental record. Am I right so far, Jerry? … We decided to keep it going, see how far we could take it because the Tijuana Brass kept selling records and we just thought we’d reinvest the money into the company. So little by little we had this company that started with the two of us in my garage, and all of a sudden we had three and five and 10 and it kept going… ‘The Lonely Bull’ was the first release on A&M. Check this: It was A&M 101. I said, ‘Why do you want to call it 101?’ He says, ‘I want the distributors to think we’ve had a hundred records.'” (The labels for the original 45rpm singles actually bear the numbers “703” and “CAR-1905” on the A-side and “CAR-1906” on the flip, but all the more crafty if Moss indeed came up with those at random to sound impressive.)
“Jerry and I never, ever signed an agreement or contract together with each other,” Alpert added, repeating the well-known lore of A&M being effectively based on a handshake. “We didn’t have a (contract) that we were legally partners. Am I right, Jerry? It was unbelievable. We took this company from two people to 500 people, and I never had a (written) agreement with Jerry because I trusted him and Jerry trusted me. When we sold the company, that was the first time we put our names down on a contract, that we were agreeing to this sale. … I got lucky to have a partner and a dear friend like Jerry Moss. Jerry’s an unforgettable person, because he’s real… I adore you, man.”