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Ascending trumpet group performs Saturday at Portage Center for the Arts

October 27, 2016 GMT

Playing hits by trumpet masters like Al Hirt and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass seems to be having an effect that reaches beyond the here and now.

“You’ll say, ’Oh yeah, I remember that one,” said Bob Jacobson, trumpet player for the Madison group, Hirt Alpert, set to perform at Portage Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

The name of his group honors two “hugely popular” artists from the 1960s — but they had the kind of hits you don’t hear on the radio anymore.

After jumping at the idea among members to form a band that would honor these somewhat-forgotten legends, the group didn’t know what to expect.

Less than a year later, Hirt Alpert is “resonating with a lot of folks.”

“Whenever I mention to somebody what kind of music we play, 90 percent of the time their response is, ‘My dad had all those records,’” Jacobson said. “So it taps into that happy, nostalgic vibe.

“It’s music that when you sit there, it just puts a smile on your face.”

Hirt Alpert is a seven-member group featuring the trumpet, French horn, bass trombone, guitar, bass, drums and the appealing “vibraphone” — an instrument like a xylophone with metal keys that “you hear in a lot of jazz.” Members played their first show in Madison in December 2015.

Portage will be their first gig outside of Madison.

“We don’t plan to go too far afield, but we’re willing to play within a couple hours of Madison,” Jacobson said, noting the group might soon play some gigs in Milwaukee.

That’s a solid trajectory for a band that “didn’t have any goals” when it formed, and it’s the result of a group that seems to be enjoying “one of those right-place-at-the-right-time things.”

The appeal, Jacobson added, seems to at least be aided by the fact there aren’t any other bands playing this kind of music.

“Everybody in the band is a veteran of the music scene, some in multiple bands, some with big followings, some just for fun,” said Jacobson, 53, a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines and in communications consulting for nonprofits. “We got together without any expectations, but that first show just struck a nerve and people just dug it.”

As music veterans, Jacobson and other members of the group know what it’s like to spend so much time “hustling for gigs,” something that makes the quick success of Hirt Alpert so satisfying.

“This time people are coming to us — and it’s word of mouth,” Jacobson said. “We’ve had no conversations about where we want to be a year from now, but if we’re still drawing crowds, that’d be fine.”

Hirt Alpert members understand the music is very popular for older crowds, so they’ve been performing in senior centers and in apartment complexes with nice auditoriums, among other venues.

Positive feedback has exceeded expectations.

“I think there’s a demand for this,” Jacobson said.

Portage residents considering attending Saturday’s show can, at a minimum, bank on the “uplifting” nature of the performance, he said. People “tend to leave happier than when they came in,” and that’s a product of tapping into the “nostalgic nerve” that Jacobson said cannot be underestimated.

“Even if they don’t remember this music directly, they remember seeing it in their parents’ collections,” Jacobson said of Al Hirt and Herb Alpert records.

Hirt Alpert is horn-driven music with captivating interplay between its three horns, and the vibraphone is a “rare treat” for most audiences, he added. A little more than half of Hirt Alpert’s repertoire is Al Hirt and Herb Alpert tunes, but the band does lay a lot of other horn-oriented hits from the 1960s.

Perhaps the best indicator of what to expect Saturday is to know how the group sounded in its very first rehearsal last year.

“We worked on three tunes,” Jacobson said, “and I knew right away it just clicked.

“I knew we were on to something.”