Born on February 11, 1941, in Niteroi, Brazil; son of a physician; married to Gracinha Leporace (a singer). Addresses: Agent--William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019, (212) 586-5100.

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 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 Birdland 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 communiqué. 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 garner 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 Um 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, 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.

by Bruce Walker

Sergio Mendes's Career

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.

Sergio Mendes's Awards

Grammy Award, Best World Music Album for Brasileiro, 1992.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 16 years ago

I was wondering if Sergio visited the United States in 1954 or 55? Could he have visited a small town in Tennessee...Columbia. I thought I remembered him playing with our Concert Band...The Flight of the Bumble Bee. Is it possible? Thanks for your reply, Kindest Regards, Tommie Rose Farris Palm Desert, California