Mendes, Sérgio: 1941—
Sérgio Mendes: 1941—: Musician
From the Bossa Nova craze of 1950s Brazil to the explosion of interest in Latin music on a global basis, Sérgio Mendes has been a constant presence on the contemporary music stage. While best known in the United States for a series of hit albums that helped popularize Latin-influenced, soft-jazz sounds in the 1960s, Mendes's work included a diverse range of Brazilian, African, and American styles. The winner of a 1992 Grammy Award for Best World Music Album for his release Brasileiro, Mendes has also earned the respect of his peers for a career that remains prolific over forty years after his first recorded output.
Sérgio Mendes was born on February 11, 1941 into a prosperous family in Niterói, Brazil. His father was a physician who was strict with his son; when Mendes did poorly in school, his father shaved his head as a punishment. Mendes also suffered from a crippling bout with scoliosis that forced him to wear a body cast during much of his childhood. His primary consolation was music: even while in a cast, the budding musician propped himself up at the piano, where he would play for hours at a time.
Mendes was not encouraged by his parents to think of music as a potential profession, although they paid for his training as a classical pianist at a local conservatory. Despite their disapproval, he formed his first jazz combos while a teenager with a friend from Niterói, Tião Neto, on the bass; the group was rounded out with several different drummers. Mendes's trio landed a number of paying gigs around Niterói, even though they could not play very many of the dance tunes that were popular at the time. Mendes supplemented this training with trips across Guanabara Bay on the ferry from Niterói to Rio de Janeiro, historically the center of Brazil's musical life. Mendes became a regular at the Lojas Murray club, where he soaked up the latest jazz and contemporary sounds. The camaraderie of Rio's music scene was also helpful; on more than one occasion, the audience at Lojas Murray took up collections to pay for Mendes's ferry ride back home.
Mendes made his first professional mark on the Rio scene while still a teenager. In 1960 he started playing on Sunday afternoons at the Little Club, located in Rio's premier beachfront entertainment district, the Copacabana. While Mendes was not paid for the appearances, he was allowed the freedom to experiment with various jazz and Latin rhythms, including the bossa nova, which was reaching the height of its popularity in Brazil. Bossa nova, or "new wave," came on the scene in 1957 with the João Gilberto recording of Tom Jobim's "Desafinado" ("Out of Tune"). Bossa nova songs typically featured a seemingly simple, syncopated rhythm with unadorned vocals; often the singer was accompanied only by a guitar. The result was a strikingly modern form of music that soon replaced the samba as Brazil's best-known cultural export.
At a Glance . . .
Born Sérgio Mendes on February 11, 1941 in Niterói, Brazil. Education: Completed secondary education in Niterói and trained as classical pianist. Religion: Roman Catholic.
Career: Recording artist: Dance Moderno, 1961; Quiet Nights, 1963; The Swinger from Rio, 1964; Sérgio Mendes and Bossa Rio, 1964; In the Brazilian Bag, 1965; The Great Arrival, 1966; Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '66, 1966; The Beat of Brazil, 1967; Equinox, 1967; Sérgio Mendes' Favorite Things, 1968; Look Around, 1968; Fool on the Hill, 1968; Crystal Illusions, 1969; Bossa New York, 1969; Stillness, 1971; País Tropical, 1971; Primal Roots, 1972; Love Music, 1973; Vintage '74, 1974; Home Cooking, 1976; Sérgio Mendes and the New Brasil '77, 1977; Pele, 1977; Brasil '78, 1978; Magic Lady, 1979; Sérgio Mendes, 1983; Brasil '86, 1986; Arara, 1989; Brasileiro, 1992; Oceano, 1996; Mais Que Nada, 1999; In Person at El Matador, 1999.
Awards: Recording Industry Association of America, Gold Album, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, 1967, Gold Album, Look Around, 1968, Gold Album, Fool on the Hill, 1969, Gold Album, Equinox, 1969; Grammy Award, Best World Music Album, Brasileiro, 1992.
Address: Record company— A&M Records/Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404.
In addition to his afternoon gigs at the Little Club, Mendes also played the piano at Bottles, another club in the Copacabana. Appearing on stage as an accompanist to the "Pocket Shows" put on by cabaret performers, Mendes soon formed his own regular lineup, the Sérgio Mendes Sextet. After 1961 Mendes, along with other groups appearing in the Copacabana, added stronger percussion to the bossa nova, creating a harder sound that bridged the gap between bossa nova and the samba. Mendes also made his first record in 1961, Dance Moderno, which appeared on the Philips label. The following year Mendes traveled to New York City to appear with his Sextet at the Birdland Ballroom. A chance encounter with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley led to Mendes's appearance with the jazz legend on the 1962 album Quiet Nights. Mendes also participated in a pivotal bossa nova concert at Carnegie Hall on November 21, 1962. The concert was a major critical and commercial success and confirmed the popularity of Brazilian music in the United States.
Mendes had ridden the bossa nova craze during a time of optimism in Brazil's history. The civilian governments of the late 1950s and early 1960s promised to transform the country into an economic powerhouse, and the construction of the new capital at Brasilia symbolized their hopes. When inflation and corruption got out of hand in 1964, however, armed forces took over the government in a military coup. For the next twenty-five years the military ruled Brazil with a repressive hand; while musicians offered critiques of the military regime through the sly lyrics of melodramatic "tropicalismo" songs, they suffered along with the rest of the country during these repressive years.
Like many others in Brazil's artistic community, Mendes chose to leave his homeland in 1964. He discovered a musical community in New York City that rivaled the talent in Rio de Janeiro, and Mendes's recording career took off immediately. For the rest of the decade he released at least one full-length album every year, and sometimes as many as three. Signed to Capitol Records, Mendes's albums did not at first generate impressive sales. Released at the height of the British invasion, records such as 1964's The Swinger from Rio and Sérgio Mendes and Bossa Rio and 1965's In the Brazilian Bag were out of step with mainstream trends. In 1966 Mendes put together a new group under the name Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '66 and signed a contract with A&M Records, best known as the home of its cofounder, Herb Alpert, and his group the Tijuana Brass.
It was Mendes's releases with Brasil '66 that made him into a household name in the United States. The group's first A&M release, Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '66 went into the top ten on Billboard's album chart and eventually earned a gold record for sales of over 500,000 copies in the United States. The track "Mais Que Nada"—later included on the soundtrack to the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery in 1997—also brought the group airplay on top forty radio stations. The 1967 release Equinox continued Mendes's trend toward light, pop-oriented Latin beats, but the 1968 album Look Around gave the group its biggest pop hit with a cover version of the Beatles' song "Fool on the Hill." Like Equinox, Look Around earned Mendes and Brasil '66 gold records, as did the 1968 album Fool on the Hill.
With a string of four gold albums, Mendes was the biggest selling Brazilian artist in the United States in the 1960s. Although some critics applauded his genre-expanding attempts to fuse Brazilian rhythms with contemporary pop sounds, others accused him of pandering to mainstream tastes. Along with Herb Alpert's albums with the Tijuana Brass, Mendes's work was often categorized as easy listening "elevator" music by purists who derided his 1960's output.
Mendes experimented with folk, jazz, and traditional Brazilian music on the 1973 album Primal Roots and his popularity declined in the United States, although he remained a popular recording and concert performer in Europe, Japan, and Latin America throughout the 1970s. In 1983 he staged a commercial comeback in the United States with the album Sérgio Mendes, which featured the top ten single "Never Gonna Let You Go." In 1992 Mendes released the critically acclaimed Brasilero, which won the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album. Although he was now a permanent resident of Los Angeles, California, Mendes spent five months in Brazil working on the album, which drew inspiration from the Afro-Brazilian rhythms of the Bahía region.
With his explorations of Brazilian, African, and western sounds on albums such as 1996's Oceano and 1999's Mais Que Nada, Mendes has continued a prolific recording career that spans over forty years. With his Grammy Award and enduring popularity, Mendes has been a major force in bringing world music to diverse audiences around the globe.
Dance Moderno, Philips Records, 1961.
Quiet Nights, Philips Records, 1963.
The Swinger from Rio, Atlantic Records, 1964.
Sérgio Mendes and Bossa Rio, Philips Records, 1964.
In the Brazilian Bag, Tower Records, 1965.
The Great Arrival, Atlantic Records, 1966.
Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '66, A&M Records, 1966.
The Beat of Brazil, Atlantic Records, 1967.
Equinox, A&M Records, 1967.
Sérgio Mendes' Favorite Things, Atlantic Records, 1968.
Look Around, A&M Records, 1968.
Fool on the Hill, A&M Records, 1968.
Crystal Illusions, A&M Records, 1969.
Stillness, A&M Records, 1971
País Tropical, A&M Records, 1971.
Primal Roots, A&M Records, 1972.
Love Music, Bell Records, 1973.
Vintage '74, Bell Records, 1974.
Home Cooking, Elektra Records, 1976.
Sérgio Mendes and the New Brasil '77, Elektra Records, 1977.
Pele, Atlantic Records, 1977.
Brasil '78, RCA Records, 1978.
Magic Lady, Elektra Records, 1979.
Sérgio Mendes, A&M Records, 1983.
Brasil '86, A&M Records, 1986.
Arara, A&M Records, 1989.
Brasileiro, Elektra Records, 1992.
Oceano, Polygram Records, 1996.
Mais Que Nada, Polygram Records, 1999.
In Person at El Matador, WEA Records, 1999.
Castro, Ruy, Bossa Nova: The Story of the Brazilian Music that Seduced the World, A Capella Books, 2000, pp. 214-215.
McGowan, Chris and Ricardo Pessanha, The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil, Billboard Books, 1991, p. 69.
World Music: The Rough Guide Volume 2, Rough Guides, 2000, pp. 336-337.
Americas, May/June 1999, p. 56.
Billboard, June 17, 1995, p. 34.
Q, April 1996; November 1997.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=Bu698s31ba3dg~C
Brasil '66, http://www.brasil66.com
Freeform Music, http://freeform.org/music/m/Sergio_Mendes.html
Bandleader, composer, arranger, keyboardist
With his band Brazil ‘66, bandleader Sergio Mendes soared to the top of the popular music charts in the United States during the mid-1960s with covers of songs by Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Burt Bacharach, and Jimmy Webb. The songs featured a rhythmic Latin percussion foundation that percolated beneath the soaring crystalline vocal harmonies of Lani Hall and Janis Hansen (and later Hall and Karen Phillips). The arrangements, first by Mendes and later by Dave Grusin, included ethereal woodwinds, string sections, and keyboards that combined to create a style blending Brazilian bossa nova and American and British pop into a hybrid that was tremendously successful. Dismissed by some critics as easy listening, it was applauded by others for its rhythmic complexity, high production values, and intriguing vocals. After the heyday of the 1960s, Mendes attempted several updated versions of Brazil ‘66, including Brazil 77, and Brazil ‘99, had a major hit single in 1983 with “Never Let You Go,” and pursued his jazz leanings.
Mendes was born on February 11, 1941, and raised in Niteroi, Brazil, the son of a physician. He studied music at a conservatory and harbored hopes of becoming a classical pianist. In the late 1950s, Mendes relocated to Rio de Janeiro, where he developed a passion for
Born on February 11, 1941, in Niteroi, Brazil; son of a physician; married to Gracinha Leporace (a singer).
Recorded Dance Moderno, 1961; played impromptu performance with Cannonball Adderley at Birdland jazz club, New York City, 1962; recorded Capitol Records album with Adderley, 1962; played on recordings of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Art Farmer, 1963-65; moved to United States, 1964; formed Brazil ‘65, with Bob Matthews (bass), Jose Soares (percussion), Joao Palma (percussion), Lani Hall (vocals), and Janis Hansen (vocals), 1965; renamed band Brazil ‘66, signed to Herb Albert’s A&M label, 1966; band had first hit with release of single “Mais que nada” from album Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brazil ‘66, 1966; released second album, Equinox, 1967; released hit cover of Burt Bacharach song, “The Look of Love,” released as single in conjunction with song’s appearance in James Bond-spoof Casino Royale, 1968; recorded hit single “Never Let You Go,” 1983.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best World Music Album for Brasileiro, 1992.
bossa nova music. He also immersed himself in American jazz until, he explained to writer John Lannert on the William Morris Agency website, “around 15 or so, when I was given a Dave Brubeck record and that changed my life. From then on, I started listening to Charlie Parker and Bud Powell and all those great jazz pianists. So that was my main influence during my adolescent years.”
He formed the Hot Trio in 1960, a group that played at the Rio establishment known as Bottles Bar. “Brazilian music was harmonically sophisticated, so the jazz element was contained in the improvisation,” Mendes explained to Lannert. “But we continued to listen to Parker, Miles Davis—just to learn the new language and incorporate it into Brazilian music.” He associated with bossa nova pioneers Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto, and met American musicians Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, and Herbie Mann. In 1962 the Hot Trio evolved into the Sexteto Bossa Rio, with which he recorded Dance Moderno. The band—consisting of two trombones, tenor saxophone, bass, drums, and piano—toured Europe and America, and played Bird-land in New York City. There, Mendes sat in with headliner Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. The duo later recorded an album together for Capitol Records in 1962. Mendes later recorded two albums of a samba/ jazz hybrid for Atlantic Records. The first, Swinger from Rio, included Jobim, Hubert Laws, Art Farmer, and Phil Woods.
In 1964 Mendes considered moving to the United States, but a telegram sent to him was intercepted by Brazil’s military regime and interpreted as a subversive political communique. He was arrested and placed under house arrest for two weeks. Upon release, he did move to the United States with his new band, Brazil ‘65. The group settled in Los Angeles and signed a contract with Capitol Records. The initial recording, produced by David Cavanaugh, failed to gamer much recognition outside Southern California. Mendes was then inspired to form a new lineup. “I ran into the idea of having two girls singing—don’t ask me why—I just liked that sound,” he explained to Lannert. ‘Then I decided to work with not only Brazilian songs, but well-known English-language songs by composer Burt Bacharach and the Beatles. For me, the song and the melody are everything. So we started working on getting those great songs put into a Brazilian pocket. We would work all day long, break for lunch and we would go back and try an assortment of different rhythms, so it was like a workshop. It was wonderful.” The result, Look Around, became a gold-selling album; the single “The Look of Love” was nominated for a 1968 Academy Award for Best Song after it was featured in the David Niven/Woody Allen James Bond-spoof Casino Royale.
Mendes left Capitol to sign with trumpeter Herb Alpert and partner Jerry Moss’s new label A&M in 1966. Featuring Bob Matthews on bass; Jose Soares on percussion; Joao Palma on percussion; Lani Hall on vocals; and Janis Hansen on vocals; the newly renamed Brazil ‘66’s debut A&M album featured the hit single “Mais que nada.” Sung in Portugese, it went gold the following year.
The group dented the top 40 with three singles from the follow-up gold album Equinox, “Night and Day,” “Constant Rain (Chove chuva),” and “For Me.” The next release, Fool on the Hill, which also went gold, featured a new lineup that featured vocalist Karen Phillips as a replacement for Hansen, and a rhythm section that consisted of Sebastio Neto, Dom Urn Romao, Rubens Bassini, and Oscar Castro Neves. The single “Scarborough Fair” heightened their popularity still further.
Mendes cemented the group’s renown with frequent television appearances and a concert tour with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and the Baja Marimba Band. He also complemented his pop successes with more traditional jazz releases on the Atlantic Records label that featured such jazz musicians as Claire Fisher, Hubert Laws, Phil Woods, Art Farmer, and Jobim. In 1969 Brazil ‘66 released Crystal Illusions, which included cover versions of the Otis Redding and Steve Cropper composition “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” and the single “Pretty World.” The group’s other 1969 release, Ye-Me-Le, included a cover of the Jimmy Webb song that became a major hit for Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman.” The band’s most commercially successful period, however, had ended by the time they released the 1971 album Stillness, which included cover versions of Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning” and Stephen Still’s Buffalo Springfield hit “For What It’s Worth,” and the 1972 release Primal Roots, an album of Brazilian music. Singer Lani Hall, who had been married for a time to Herb Alpert, defected from the band after the release of Stillness to pursue a solo career as a jazz vocalist.
In 1973 the band moved to Bell Records. Mendes released a solo album Sergio Mendes, on the Elektra label. The commercial failure of this effort led Mendes to form Brazil ‘77, which also failed to ignite record buyers’ interests. A five-year sabbatical from recording ended when Mendes signed another contract with A&M Records in 1982. The following year he reached his highest chart position ever for the single “Never Gonna Let You Go,” which was sung by Joe Pizzulo and Leza Miller. He recognized moderate success with the single “Alibis” and the 1983 album Confetti, but never recaptured the sales success of his work in the 1960s and early 1980s.
In the 1990s he formed Brazil ‘99, which he renamed Brazil 2000, but success eluded him. The best-received releases from the 1990s are the 1992 album Brasileiro and the 1996 album Oceano, the latter receiving positive notices despite its inclusion of an ill-advised foray into rap with the song “Maracatudo.” Writing for Connectbrazil.com, critic Wes Gillespie praised Oceano: “This is an album for Martini dinner parties on cool summer nights and a must for all Mendes fans. The music oozes class which is only what we have come to expect from the four generations of recordings from Sergio and his troupe of international and local stars.” His most recent work combined influences from such diverse genres as hip-hop, funk, jazz, and Brazilian music.
Dance Modemo, Philips, 1961.
(With Cannonball Adderley) Quiet Nights, Capitol, 1963.
Swinger from Rio, Atlantic, 1965.
Beat of Brazil, Atlantic, 1967.
Great Arrival, Atlantic, 1967.
Sergio Mendes’ Favorite Things, Atlantic, 1968.
Sergio Mendes , Elektra, 1975.
Homecooking, Elektra, 1976.
Sergio Mendes , A&M, 1973.
Picardia, A&M, 1983.
Confetti A&M, 1984.
Arara, A&M, 1989.
Brasileiro, Elektra, 1992.
Oceano, Verve, 1996.
With Brazil ‘65, ‘66, ‘77, and ‘88
Brazil 65, 66, ‘77, 1965.
Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes & Brazil ‘66, A&M, 1966.
Sergio Mendes & Brazil ‘65 in Person at El Matadorl, Atlantic, 1966.
Equinox, A&M, 1967.
Look Around, A&M, 1967.
Fool on the Hill, A&M, 1968.
Ye-Me-Le, A&M, 1969.
Crystal Illusions, A&M, 1970.
Stillness, A&M, 1970.
Primal Roots, A&M/Odeon, 1972.
Love Music, Bell, 1973.
Brasil ‘88, Elektra, 1977.
A&M 25th Anniversary Classics, Vol. 18, A&M, 1987.
Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘66 Greatest Hits, A&M, 1987.
Knopper, Steve, editor, MusicHound Lounge: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.
“Musicmaker: Sergio Mendes,” Space Age Pop Music, http://www.spaceagepop.com/mendes.htm (August 30, 2002).
“Sergio Mendes,” All Brazilian Music, http://www.allbrazilianmusic.com (August 30, 2002).
“Sergio Mendes,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 30, 2002).
“Sergio Mendes, Album—Oceano, Year—1968, Label— Verve,” Connectbrazil.com, The Jazz Site, http://www.thejazzsite.net/files/sergiomendes.htm (August 30, 2002).
“Sergio Mendes: Biography,” William Morris Agency, http://www.wma/sergio_mendes/bio/SERGIO_MENDES.pdf (August 30, 2002).
“The Sergio Mendes Discography,” A&M Corner, http://www.brazil66.com/index.php (August 30, 2002).
“Sergio Mendes Discography,” Brazilian Music Guide, http://www.slipcue.com/music/brazil/mendes.html (August 30, 2002).