Sérgio Mendes: The Master at 77

Few have had this kind of influence on music genres. Sérgio Santos Mendes is the man who brought Bossa Nova, Samba and Musica Popular Brasileira to North America. But that is only the simple version of the story.

Seventy-seven years ago, to the day, he was born in Niterói, a town which is part of Rio de Janeiro Province. He received an education as a classical pianist, while his interest in Jazz and Brazilian genres grew more and more.

At the beginning of the 1960-s, when Bossa Nova was exploding all over his country, he became the band leader of Sexteto Bossa Rio, a very successful group. First they toured France and Italy. In 1964, they hit Japan.

After the tour, Sérgio Mendes settled in the United States, where he signed a deal with A&M Records, Herb Alpert’s label. In 1966, an interpretation of Jorge Ben’s “Mas Que Nada” became his big hit.

At that moment, Mendes had arrived in more than one way. Indeed, he spread Brazilian music in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan. And he mixed it with Pop music.

In the beginning, with his group Brasil 66, the genius pianist, composer, arranger and producer Sérgio Mendes loved covering tunes such as “Fool on the Hill” by The Beatles, which he converted to a more Brazilian style.

Years later, he called his new band Brasil 77. The concept remained the same, while the sound was more modern and partially even funky. But Mendes always presented true Brazilian tunes too.

During the times of Brasil 77, he married Gracinha Leporace, a vocalist he had cooperated with extensively.

By the time his group name had changed again, this time to Brasil 88, Sergio Mendes also delivered brilliant Pop hits (AOR) sung in English. One stunning example is “Never Gonna Let You Go”, which hit the 4th place in the U.S. charts.

Another truly stunning example for Mendes’ brilliant Pop tunes was “Let’s Give a Little More This Time”, recorded with vocalist Joe Pizzulo in 1984. The same album, “Confetti”, contained another very special tune recorded with a children’s choir. That one was entitled “The Sound of One Song”. What a wonderful piece of work.

A million more albums followed, too many to mention. But there is one we will not be able to ignore here. It was recorded in 1992. The title: “Brasilieiro”. This one got him the Grammy Award for the “Best World Music Album”. And the jury was right.

“Brasilieiro” contains it all, from Brazilian-African rhythms via sambaresque sounds all the way to tunes mixed with Rap. This album is like a book about Brazilian music and the life achievement of the artist.

Later on, Sérgio Mendes cooperated with The Black Eyed Peas and other much younger groups, including rappers who would join him on tours. That way, he reached a new generation of people, many of whom would become fans.

Sérgio Mendes still tours like crazy. Gracinha Leporace often joins him on stage, along with some of the greatest session musicians ever. The sounds and sights he presents on stage resemble everything he ever did, since Brasil 66.

Mendes and his band appeared all over Europe in the past years, including at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam and Jazz á Vienne in France.

One former member of the band needs to be mentioned here: Oscar Castro-Neves, a genius guitarist and Bossa Nova master, who died in 2013. He played with Mendes for decades and recorded solo albums too. Oscar was the best.

Sergio Mendes’ influence on Pop music, but mostly regarding the fusion of Pop and Brazilian music, as well as Jazz and Brazilian sounds, should never be underestimated.

Happy birthday, Sergio Mendes.


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