He has defined Brazilian music for five decades. As a keyboard player, composer, producer and vocalist, Sergio Mendes has taken the music of his native land to international popularity. The three-time Grammy winner, with three additional nominations, has recorded more than 35 albums. In 2012, he received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score for “Real in Rio” from the animated film Rio.
Mendes began playing in nightclubs in Brazil at a time when the bossa nova beat was the thing. He played with Antonio Carlos Jobim, a creator of the bossa nova sound, and with the jazz musicians who toured Brazil, honing his own sound. In the 60s, he toured the United States and Europe, performing with Cannonball Adderley and Herbie Mann, and in 1964, he moved to the U.S. It was here that he met Herb Alpert, who signed Mendes and his group, Brasil ’66, to a contract. The first album, Herb Alpert presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66 went platinum because of the hit single, “Mas Que Nada.” This was the first Portuguese language song ever to hit Billboard’s U.S. Pop Chart. His mix of bossa nova and samba mixed with pop instrumentation came to define Brazilian music. Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 became international superstars, performing “The Look of Love” at the 1968 Oscars and following that with hits like “The Fool on the Hill” and “Scarborough Fair.”
Mendes’ popularity continued as new musical styles burst forth. In the 1980s, his single, “Never Gonna Let You Go,” became a No. 4 Adult Contemporary hit and Top-10 chart topper. In 1992, his record, Brasileiro was awarded a Grammy for Best World Music and he was also awarded two Latin Grammy awards for Best Brazilian Record, Timeless, in 2006 and Bon Tempo, in 2010. The latter was also nominated for a Grammy Award. Few artists have maintained that level of excellence and peer recognition over so many decades. His iconic Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66 has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in the class of historically significant recordings.
Mendes’ versatility and innovation have enabled him to cooperate with a wide range of artists. In 2006, for Timeless, he collaborated with contemporary pop, rock, urban and hip-hop artists. It also featured a re-recording of “Mas Que Nada,” accompanied by Gracinha Leporace, Mendes’ wife. Other collaborators included Justin Timberlake, John Legend and The Black Eyed Peas.
At a time when other artists might be thinking or retirement, Mendes was still making music. In 2011, he released his 39th album, Celebration: A Musical Journey, to commemorate 50 years as a recording artist. The record included classics and new recordings with Ivete Sangalo and Siedah Garrett. There was a remake of “The Fool on the Hill,” which he performed live at the 2011 MusiCares Gala honoring Sir Paul McCartney.
Magic is Mendes’ most recent album. The 2014 work is a collection of new songs, recorded with friends and special guests including John Legend, will.i.am and Carlinhos Brown and features the 2014 World Cup hit, “One Nation.” He continues to tour worldwide, works as a film producer and composer and develops his own album projects.
In a 2012 interview in Sounds and Colours magazine, Mendes was asked why he thought these old Brazilian songs kept finding new audiences.
“I think they are great songs to begin with, great melodies, all the Antonio Carlos Jobim songs, those songs are timeless,” he said, “You see singers like Rod Stewart or Michael Buble recording these classics, the George Gershwins, the Cole Porters, the Irving Berlins, and it’s the same thing with Brazilian music. It has the same kind of appeal. It’s very sensual music, very happy and sunny. I think people relate to that all over the world. I’ve just come to Asia and it’s amazing how much they love Brazilian music.”
If you are not familiar with Brazilian music and Sergio Mendes, come down to The Lyric and be prepared to fall in love.