Born in Niterói, part of greater Rio de Janeiro, in 1941 he began playing Bossa Nova in nightclubs in the late 1950s, often with Antonio Carlos Jobim as well as visiting US jazz musicians. He formed the Sexteto Bossa Rio and recorded his debut, Dance Moderno in 1961. He toured America in the coming years and recorded with both Cannonball Adderley and Herbie Mann before settling in the U.S in 1964.
Helped by Stan Getz and Herbie Mann to get membership of the Los Angeles Musicians Union, a necessity in allowing him to work more freely, his first band featured a Brazilian vocalist. He soon replaced her with Chicago born Lani Hall (who later became Mrs Herb Alpert) and formed Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66 to be signed to A & M Records soon after. Their debut, Herb Alpert Presents Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, went platinum following the success of the iconic, 'Mas Que Nada', a cover of a Jorge Ben song. The album, besides some Brazilian classics, includes the Beatles 'Day Tripper' and the wonderful, 'Goin' Out Of My Head'.
The band went on to record half a dozen albums before the decade was out. Among them was Look Around with a beautiful title track by Mendes and Alan Bergman & Marilyn Bergman, who also wrote the exquisite,' Like A Lover' and 'So Many Stars'. Mendes also brings a fresh approach to the Burt Bacharach classic, 'The Look of Love'.
1968's The Fool on The Hill, aside from the title track, includes an excellent cover of Simon and Garfunkel's 'Scarborough Fair'. 1969's Crystal Illusions features a number of songs co-written by Lani Hall, including the title track, which is one of the best songs Mendes ever recorded. The same year there was also Ye-Me-Le with the usual blend of covers and originals – standout tracks, 'Masquerade' and Lennon and McCartney's 'Norwegian Wood'.
By the 1970s the bands popularity had stalled somewhat in America, despite remaining very popular in South America and Japan, along with a name change to Brazil'77. Then in 1983 he re-signed to A&M and released Sergio Mendes which included the hit, 'Never Let You Go' sung by Joe Pizzulo and Leza Miller; it reached No.4 on the Billboard singles chart.
In 1992 he won a Grammy for his album, Brasileiro and then in 2006 he re-recorded 'Mas Que Nada' with The Black Eyed Peas; this version is included on Timeless. For an essential look at the career of this great Brazilian musician check out The Very Best of Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66.
Keyboard virtuoso, composer and arranger, Sergio Mendes and his band Brasil 66 have been at the crux of the country's burgeoning music scene for many years. Integrating a multitude of Brazilian forms, including samba and bossa nova, with established jazz orchestration The Very Best Of double album is a definitive guide to the group's disparate musical history. Fruitful collaborations with Herb Alpert and his wife, vocalist Lani Hall, resulted in the recording of the Beatles' "Day Tripper" amongst others. Indeed, Mendes shows a prolific taste for Lennon and McCartney compositions which are scattered here between intuitive reworkings of some Brazilian masterpieces such as Jorge Ben's "Mas Que Nada", Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Triste" and Milton Nascimento's "Empty Faces". With a light, whimsical tone the tracks here provide fine entertainment of the cocktail party variety.
Words: George Lees
Having hit upon another smash formula -- cover versions of pop/rock hits backed by lavish strings, a simplified bossa nova rhythm, and the leader's piano comping -- Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 produced two more chart-busting singles, again turning to the Beatles for sustenance with the title track (number six) and Simon & Garfunkel for "Scarborough Fair" (number 16). But again, the bulk of the album was dominated by Brazilians, and by one in particular: the hugely gifted Edu Lobo, whose dramatic "Casa Forte" and infectious "Upa, Neguinho" were the best of his four songs. The tracks were longer now, the string-laden ballads (arranged by Dave Grusin) more lavish and moody, and Lani Hall emerged as the vocal star of the band, eclipsing her new partner, Karen Philipp (although Hall is upstaged on "Lapinha" by future Brasil '77 member Gracinha Leporace). Even though he had become thoroughly embedded in the consciousness of mainstream America, Mendes still managed to have it three ways, exposing first-class tunes from little-known Brazilian talent, garnering commercial hits, and also making some fine records. Cultural note: the striking foldout cover art, depicting Brasil '66 at sunset seated on top of a nude woman, somehow made it past the uptight censors of the day and no doubt boosted sales; it was Mendes' highest-charting album at number three.
Words: Richard S. Ginell
Perhaps the Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 sound was at last beginning to show signs of wear, for not only didn't Ye-Me-Le produce any hits ("Wichita Lineman" reached a lowly number 95), but the album is also less enterprising and fresh-sounding than its predecessors. There is a surprising shortage of Brazilian material, which was always Mendes' most valuable contribution in the long run, and more reliance upon routine covers of pop/rock standards like "Easy to Be Hard" and "What the World Needs Now." But there are special moments, like the hypnotic "Masquerade" (no relation to the Leon Russell/George Benson hit), Sergio Mihanovich's haunting "Some Time Ago," and another winning treatment of a Beatles tune, "Norwegian Wood," where Mendes cuts loose a killer solo on electric piano (believe it or not, the 45 rpm single version features more of that solo than the LP).
Words: Richard S. Ginell
This original Universal Masters Collection assembles virtually all the '60s and early-'70s hits by Sergio Mendes and his various Brazil bands, beginning with Brasil '66. While it's been done again and again and these tracks are hardly rare on CD, this particular selection is solid as can be, with "Mais Que Nada" leading it off. Sure, most of the Beatles' covers are here too: "Norwegian Wood," "Day Tripper," and "With A Little Help from My Friends," but alas, "Fool on the Hill" is not. The beautiful reading of "Scarborough Fair," is included in this set as are hits ranging from the smash version of "Goin' Out of My Head," and the signature speedy samba reading of "What the World Needs Now Is Love."
Words: Thom Jurek
It's easy to think that since Santana made his big comeback using a lot of contemporary pop stars it would become the formula for the artists of yore to edge their way back into the limelight. Sergio Mendes, the best-selling Brazilian recording artist of all time, hasn't made a platter in eight years. He plays piano on a Black Eyed Peas track -- "Sexy" from Elephunk -- and the jam's a smash. Will.i.am of the Peas decides to hook up for a full-on collaboration with Mendes, because he's a huge fan. Being the hotshot producer of the moment, Will.i.am recruited everyone from Q-Tip, Justin Timberlake, and John Legend to Jill Scott, Black Thought (the Roots), and Stevie Wonder (just to name a few) to sign on. Recorded in both Brazil and the House of Blues in Encino, the set revisits many Mendes and Brazilian songbook classics and reworks them in the modern beat-driven idiom. Needless to say, the end result is entertaining, if mixed. Let it be said that a cut like "Mas Que Nada" should never have been covered, let alone redone. But it is here with Black Eyed Peas and some backing vocals with, of course, Mendes playing that trademark piano riff. OK, "That Heat" is a reworking of "Slow Hot Wind," the Henry Mancini tune Mendes covered and is supposedly the first track Will.i.am ever sampled at the ripe old age of 14. Here Erykah Badu croons in a sultry humid way as Will.i.am goes down deep with the rap. Mendes' piano is what keeps the thing from falling completely apart. Better is the Baden Powell-Vinicius de Moraes medley of "Berimbau/Consolacao." Mendes' Rhodes offers the vamp that the elegant chorus singers -- Gracinha Leporace, Debi Nova, and Kleber Jorge -- and Mendes groove to. Will.i.am lays down some rather organic-sounding electronic percussion that sounds like palmas, and Wonder blows his harmonica over the entire proceeding as Jorge's guitar strides alongside Mendes' piano. This may be the best cut on the set. There is a fine case to be made for the humor in "The Frog," written by João Donato, and originally covered by Mendes. Q-Tip lays down a charming rhyme and Mendes' Wurlitzer work is killer. The cover of "Let Me" is stiff and Jill Scott, as fine a singer as she is, doesn't cut it here, and neither does the rhythm track. The smoother than smooth "Please Baby Don't," written and sung by John Legend, works because of Legend's understanding of Brazilian rhythm and Mendes' piano groove that carries the voice. "Samba da Bencao," with Marcelo D2 and guitars by the Maogani Quartet, is engaging; Mendes' acoustic piano solo is beautiful, as are the horn charts. The title track with India.Arie is simply beautiful. Aire, with backing vocals by Nova and Leporace and a slinky guitar part by Jorge, makes the tune simply float as Mendes decorates it with Rhodes and synth. Timeless is a mixed bag, but it's not because of Mendes. His own playing and arranging is utterly elegant. As a producer, Will.i.am means well and in general does a fine job -- though he is, as would be expected, a tad overzealous in working with one of his idols. Timeless may not actually achieve that status, but for the moment it's a fine effort that doesn't reek of cloying commercial manipulation and feels like a true collaboration.
Words: Thom Jurek
As Sergio Mendes reached the peak of his first A&M period with Brasil '66, his old company, Atlantic, continued to release new instrumental Mendes albums, of which this was the last. As on the Brasil '66 recordings of the time, Mendes exposes fresh material from the '60s bumper crop of great Brazilian songwriters: Edú Lobo, Dori Caymmi, Baden Powell, Chico Buarque, and Caetano Veloso. Dave Grusin returns with his swirling, ambitious orchestral arrangements; John Pisano is back on rhythm guitar (along with a lounge-like bossa nova take of his "So What's New"); and Mendes continues to toy with the Fender Rhodes electric piano and electric harpsichord on a number of cuts. Yet this album has an entirely different sound than Mendes' A&Ms, with a typically trebly Nesuhi Ertegun production and more varied rhythm tracks (only on the title track does the rhythm section sound like that of Brasil '66). Buarque's "A Banda" -- which Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass took to the singles charts in the fall of 1967 -- conjures the effect of a ramshackle marching band in a Brazilian parade, and Caymmi's "The Sea Is My Soil" is an evocative mood-swinging tone poem. Ertegun gives Mendes a shot at one of his own favorite things, "Comin' Home Baby," perhaps hoping for hit lightning to strike yet again on this tune (it didn't). Ultimately, this comes off as a pleasant side trip from Mendes' prime period.
Words: Richard S. Ginell
Sergio Mendes takes (a few more) chances on Bon Tempo, his third release for Concord since 2006, all the while stepping concertedly toward the urban market in the same way that Brasil 66 shot at the heart of the pop market nearly half a century ago. Mendes produced the set himself and enlisted the talents of both Brazilian and American musicians. His element of risk comes in the form of using the songs of Brazilian composers almost exclusively -- both classic and modern -- and in some cases, radically re-interpreting them for a decidedly non-Brazilian market. One such example is in the opening re-creation of of Gilberto Gil's and João Donato's "Emorio," and making it a driving, synthetically funky dancefloor heater. Featuring lead vocals by Nayanna Holley and a rap from Carlinhos Brown (whose presence on the album is pronounced) it employs "elements" (samples) of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Surfboard," and Mendes' own signature recording of "Mas Que Nada." The layers of synths by Mikael Mutti nearly offset the fine Brazilian rhythmic invention. Mendes takes a fine piano solo, but the effect is strange nonetheless. "Maracatu Atomico" with Seu Jorge on vocals is a little less so, even when the twisting, angular clavinet solo turns the piece toward funky hip-hop. Holley and Brown re-team on the latter's "You and I." This is simply an urban tune with a couple of carnival rhythms tossed into the dancefloor thump. The sheen on Jobim's "Só Tinha de Ser Com Você," with vocals by Gracinha Leporace, is disquieting but nonetheless recognizable, and it may resonate with contemporary jazz fans. Other tunes are (a little) more traditional, such as Moacir Santos' lovely "Maracatu (Nation of Love)" and Jobim's "Caminhos Cruzados," with a beautiful vocal by Leporace and sparse, elegant Rhodes work by Mendes. The lone cover on the set is of Stevie Wonder's "The Real Thing" with vocals by Katie Hampton. With its cut-time house rhythm, layers of keyboards, and bright horn section, it works, and it should at urban radio as well. As another experiment in Mendes' catalog, this set may indeed bring listeners initially attracted by contemporary production and hypnotic dance rhythms to the rich melodic and polyrhythmic world of Brazilian music through the back door.
Words: Thom Jurek
The undisputed master of Brazilian-flavored pop (especially throughout the U.S.) in the '60s was Sergio Mendes, as he threw together Brazilian songs and aesthetics with American and British pieces, jazz ideals, and an original vocal format for his group (dual parallel female vocal lines). This compilation tries to cover the breadth of Mendes' reach and contributions. Primarily the works stem from four major albums with Brasil '66, including the massive hits "Mas Que Nada," "Chove Chuva," Tom Jobim's "One Note Samba," etc. Also from this period, though, are some interesting covers, from Cole Porter to Burt Bacharach and the Beatles. As a special treat beyond what the average greatest-hits album would include, a few tracks from much more recently in Mendes' career are presented. A cover of a hit for Djavan is here, as is a more recent Caetano Veloso number. The music has been preserved well, with productions cleaned up a bit for the release. Mendes is likely already on the shelves of Brazilian music fans, but this album may have a few nice additions even for them. Those who haven't heard "the Swinger from Rio" should find this album a worthwhile introduction as well.
Words: Adam Greenberg
The hype-laden title undoubtedly refers to Sergio Mendes' move to America two years before this album's release, settling in Los Angeles, where this record was made. Clearly he was out to make it big in the U.S.A., for this album tries to move a bit away from Brazil by spotlighting Mendes' jazz and pop piano against the elaborate charts of Clare Fischer, Bob Florence and Dick Hazard. There are contributions from the best-known Brazilians (Edu Lobo, Jobim of course) as well as up-to-the-minute pop tunes "Monday, Monday" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" and American songbook material like "Here's That Rainy Day" and "Girl Talk," all served up in airplay-sized packages mostly under three minutes in length. Inevitably, then, Mendes' piano doesn't get much room to breathe, but the charts are quite interesting; Florence's are the most big-band-oriented, Fischer's are the most harmonically challenging, and Hazard's lush offerings are the signposts of Mendes' future with Brasil '66. Though an encouraging step forward, Mendes' first big strike was still several months away.
Words: Richard S. Ginell
The Top Five success of "The Girl from Ipanema" by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto in 1964 paved the way for Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 two years later, establishing a fashion for Brazilian samba with cool female vocals in English. Mendes, a Brazilian-born pianist, was launched by Herb Alpert's A&M Records, and after recording his own version of the Getz/Gilberto hit (heard here as "Garota de Ipanema") went on to a series of hits in the mid- to late ‘60s in which he applied Brazilian pop arrangements to covers of familiar pop songs with Lani Hall usually handling the Gilberto-like vocals. The Mendes treatments of Bacharach/David's "The Look of Love" and the Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill" even reached the Top Ten. This two-CD set presents the highlights of Mendes' popular heyday, including his 1983 comeback hit "Never Gonna Let You Go" (on which the vocals were taken by Joe Pizzulo and Leza Miller). All the hits are included, and toward the end of the second disc, Mendes' first chart entry, "Mas Que Nada," is even transformed into a rap by Black Eyed Peas, among other remixes and remakes.
Words: William Ruhlmann