When singer Evelyn Rosenthal is asked (as she often is) “How did you get into singing Brazilian music?” the answer is always the same: “Well, when I was young my dad had this album by Sergio Mendes called ‘Look Around.’ I’d never heard anything so beautiful, rhythmic, and sexy! That album—and Sergio Mendes—started me on my path to becoming a singer of Brazilian music.”
Pianist Molly Flannery and vocalist Linda Roberts—both of whom have been performing Brazilian music for years—tell the same story. So when the three got together to cook up a show paying tribute to "the swinger from Rio" (as Mendes was billed in his early years), a lot of love and care went into the planning. Long lists of favorite songs were pared down to the essential Mendes--the one who in the 1960s topped American charts with his own thrilling version of the Bossa Nova revolution.
In 1962 Mendes was part of the famous Carnegie Hall Bossa Nova concert that introduced the jazzy style based on samba to the U.S. A pianist and composer, he toured with Cannonball Adderly and other jazz luminaries. By 1965 he had released his first album here as Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’65, followed by Brasil ’66. Mendes’s signature line-up of two female vocalists, Brazilian percussion, and electric piano created an exciting pop sound, by turns sultry and joyful.
Mendes brought to North American audiences stunning compositions in various styles—bossa nova, samba, baião—by some of Brazil’s best songwriters, including Edu Lobo, Jorge Ben, Marcos Valle, João Donato, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Gilberto Gil, and added his Brazilian twist to popular American songs of the day. Early hits from the Brasil ’66 years included Jorge Ben's “Mas que nada,” Burt Bacharach/Hal David’s, “The Look of Love,” and the Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill.” These and other songs, mostly from Mendes’s early career and from his 1992 Grammy-winning "Brasileiro" album, are featured in the tribute show, "To Sergio, with Love: The Sergio Mendes Project."
All three of the show’s organizers have long histories with Brazilian music. In addition to occasionally playing with Rosenthal’s Caminhos Cruzados, Flannery has spent time in Brazil and brings her soulful, rhythmic playing to Fernando Holz’s group; Roberts has included Brazilian songs in her repertoire since she began performing; and Rosenthal has sung Brazilian music (in Portuguese) since her early jazz vocalist days, expanding her knowledge of the language and the music over the past five years in numerous appearances.
The stellar band also includes Caminhos Cruzados regulars Steve Rose on drums (also a Fernando Holz group member); noted Boston-area jazz guitarist Steve Kirby; and bassist Jason Davis (who also plays 7-string guitar with Choro Democrático and Choros com Chocolate). Joining them will be Marcus Santos, the master Brazilian percussionist from Bahía whose Bloco AfroBrazil is legendary for its high-energy performances. Our newest member is Paul Lieberman, who brings to the band years of experience playing and recording on saxes and flute with Brazilian greats such as Airto and Flora Purim, Simone, Milton Nascimento, and Chico Buarque.
Many years and some 35 albums later, Sergio Mendes continues to record and perform. He reinvents himself every decade, bringing together his deep roots in Brazilian music with the best of whatever music is happening at the time. The group and the show “To Sergio, with Love” pays tribute to the man who delighted us when we first heard those sensuous sounds in the ‘60s.