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Spotlights [Issue # 19 ]
Sergio Mendes: Timeless to the Future

By Scott Yanow

In a word association game, the mention of Sergio Mendes would immediately be followed by Brasil ‘66. During the second half of the 1960s, Mendes’ brand of light pop/bossa nova/jazz was constantly on the best-selling charts and AM radio. Even though many decades have passed since then, he is still a household name. Recently, times Mendes collaborated with Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas to record Timeless, his debut for the Concord label. While including some of the pianist’s earlier hits, these versions are very different than their predecessors, incorporating R&B rhythms and occasionally some rap.

“Timeless is not a remix project,” says Sergio Mendes. “This is a totally fresh work. A few years ago. Will.I.Am came to my house with some of my old records. He told me how much he liked Brazilian music and that he wanted me to play on one of his albums. It gave me an idea and I asked, ‘Why don’t we play the great Brazilian songbook and marry those great songs with the hip-hop world?’ So the result is a collaboration where bossa-nova meets hip-hop.”

With such guests as Stevie Wonder, Justin Timberlake, Erykah Badu, India.Arie, Jill Scott, Q-Tip, and others, Timeless introduces Mendes’ music to a younger audience, including remakes of such songs as “Mas Que Nada,” “The Frog,” Jobim’s “Surfboard,” and several songs by Baden Powell. Even with the hip-hop rhythms and a contemporary setting, Mendes stays true to his original vision. “This album is about great melodies and great songs, a big party.”

Sergio Mendes began playing classical piano when he was seven in his native Brazil. “But when I was 12, I heard a jazz record that featured Dave Brubeck and that fascinated me. I started hearing other jazz pianists like Horace Silver, Art Tatum and Bud Powell, and jazz became a passion of mine. I had a few groups, met Antonio Carlos Jobim, and I became part of the bossa-nova movement.” Mendes first performed in the United States in 1962 at a famous Carnegie Hall bossa-nova concert with Joao Gilberto, Stan Getz, and Jobim. He recorded with Cannonball Adderley and in 1964 permanently settled in the US. Mendes met singer Loni Hall (who became Herb Albert’s wife) and formed a group called Brasil ‘65, which soon moved up its name to Brasil ‘66. As a major part of the young A&M label, Mendes had hit after hit. “I had a great run with A&M. Brasil ‘66 had a very simple sound that emphasized melodies.  We recorded great Brazilian songs and other tunes like ‘Fool On
The Hill’ and ‘The Look Of Love,’ all of it with a Brazilian touch.  My personal favorite albums from that period are Herb Albert Presents, The Fool On The Hill and Tribal Roots.”
Mendes, who had a big hit in the 1980s with “Never Gonna Let You Go,” also led later groups called Brasil ‘77, Brasil ‘99, and Brasil 2000 although his current band performs under his own name. “Enough of the numbers; we don’t need to be Brasil ‘11. People by now know that I’m from Brazil and there’s no reason to attach a number anymore. That’s why I call the new album Timeless. I’ve been performing lot all over the world in recent times, including Brazil, Japan, Europe, and the United States. For the future I hope to continue working, to make good music, to be associated with great musicians, and enjoy my family and friends.”


Timeless to the Future Sergio Mendes Timeless

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