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Sergio Mendes Biography

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Sergio Mendes In-depth Biography

For most of the second half of the '60s, Sergio Mendes} was the top-selling Brazilian artist in the United States, charting huge hit singles and LPs that regularly made the Top Five. His records with his group Brasil '66} regularly straddled the domestic pop} and international markets in America, getting played heavily on AM radio stations, both rock} and easy listening}, and he gave his label, A&M}, something to offer light jazz} listeners beyond the work of the company's co-founder, Herb Alpert}. During this period, he also became an international music star and one of the most popular musicians in South America.

Born the son of a physician in Niteroi, Brazil, Sergio Mendes} began studying music at the local conservatory while still a boy, with the intention of becoming a classical} pianist. Mendes} was living in Rio de Janeiro as the bossa nova} craze hit in the mid- to late '50s, and at age 15, he abandoned classical} music in favor of bossa nova}. Mendes} began spending time with other young Brazilian musicians in Rio de Janeiro, absorbing the musical ferment around him in the company of such figures as Antonio Carlos Jobim} and João Gilberto}. Their company was augmented by the periodic visits of American jazz} giants such as Stan Getz}, Dizzy Gillespie}, Charlie Byrd}, Paul Winter}, Roy Eldridge}, and Herbie Mann}. Mendes} became the leader of his own group, the Sexteto Bossa Rio}, and was heard with them by many visiting musicians. He made his first recording, Dance Moderno}, in 1961 on the Philips Records} label. By 1962, Mendes} and his band were playing at Birdland} in New York in an impromptu performance with Cannonball Adderley} (who was officially on the bill). Mendes} and Adderley} cut an album together for Capitol Records} that was released later that year.

His early music, represented on albums like Bossa Nova York} and Girl from Ipanema}, was heavily influenced by Antonio Carlos Jobim}, on whose recording Mendes} worked. Mendes} liked what he had found on his visit to New York and in 1964, he moved to the United States, initially to play on albums with Jobim} and Art Farmer}, and formed Brasil '65} the following year. The group recorded for Capitol} without attracting too much notice at first. In 1966, however, Mendes} and his band -- renamed Brasil '66} -- were signed to A&M Records} and something seemed to click between the group and its audience.

The group, consisting in its first A&M} incarnation of Mendes} on keyboards, Bob Matthews} on bass, João Palma} on the drums, Jose Soares} as percussionist, Lani Hall} (aka Mrs. Herb Alpert} and A&M}'s co-founder) on vocals, and Janis Hansen} on vocals, was successful upon the release of its first album for the label, with its mix of light jazz}, a bossa nova} beat, and contemporary soft pop} melodies. Their self-titled debut LP rose to number six nationally, propelled by the presence of the single "Mas Que Nada."} Their second album, Equinox}, yielded a trio of minor hits, "Night and Day,"} "Constant Rain (Chove Chuva),"} and "For Me,"} but their third, Look Around}, rose to number five behind a number three single of the group's cover of the Beatles}' "Fool on the Hill,"} and an accompanying hit with "Scarborough Fair,"} based on the Simon & Garfunkel} version of the folk} song. Crystal Illusions}, from 1969, featured a version of Otis Redding}'s "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"} and the hit single "Pretty World."} Depending upon one's sensibilities, these covers -- especially "Fool on the Hill"} and "Scarborough Fair"} -- were either legitimate internationalized pop} versions of the originals, or they were "elevator music."

During this period, Mendes} also made several recordings for Atlantic Records} separate from his A&M} deal, principally aimed at a light jazz} audience, and several of them in association with Jobim}. Art Farmer}, Phil Woods}, Hubert Laws}, and Claire Fisher} were among the jazz} figures who appeared on these records, which never remotely attracted the same level of interest or sales as his records with Brasil '66}. Mendes} successfully walked a fine line between international and domestic audiences for most of the late '60s until the end of the decade. Ye-Me-Le} was notably less successful than its predecessors, and its single "Wichita Lineman"} was only a minor hit. Mendes} seemed to lose his commercial edge with the turn of the decade, and his next two A&M} albums: Stillness}, a folk}-based collection that contained covers of Joni Mitchell}'s "Chelsea Morning"} and Stephen Stills}' "For What It's Worth,"} and Primal Roots}, an album of traditional} Brazilian music, failed to make any impression on the charts whatsoever.

The group moved to the much smaller Bell Records} label in 1973, and then Mendes} jumped to Elektra} for his first official solo album, Sergio Mendes}. He relaunched his recording career two years later with Sergio Mendes & Brasil '77} to little avail, and then, after a five year layoff from the public eye, Mendes} returned to A&M} in 1982. His 1983 comeback album, Sergio Mendes}, was his first Top 40 album in nearly a decade and a half, and was accompanied by his biggest chart single ever, "Never Gonna Let You Go,"} which hit number four. Since then, Mendes} has had limited chart success with the single "Alibis"} and the LP Confetti}. He remained a popular figure internationally, even when his record sales slumped in America, as evidenced by the fact that his entire A&M} catalog (and much of his Atlantic} work) from the '60s has been reissued on CD in Japan. Indeed, his popularity in the rest of the world, versus America, was even the basis for a comic vignette in one episode of the television series Seinfeld}.

During the '90s, Mendes} performed with a new group, Brasil '99}, and more recently, Brasil 2000}, and has been integrating the sounds of Bahian hip-hop} into his music. In 1997, A&M}'s British division released a remastered double-CD set of the best of Mendes}' music from his first seven years on the label. Most of Mendes}' back catalog was reissued as the 21st century dawned, and in 2006 Concord Records} released Timeless}, his first album of newly recorded material in eight years. ~ Bruce Eder, All Music Guide

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