SAO PAULO – Considered one of the pioneers of Brazilian jazz, Vivian Alley, director of the Smithsonian’s Latin American Folklife Center, which gathers art, music and writings from the region, described one of its giants, Brazilian trumpeter Vivian Mendonça, as a “major recording artist from the mid-to-late 1960s who deserves to be considered one of the pioneers of jazz-fusion in this hemisphere.”
Mendonça, a master bassist and lead singer, died along with two others when a charter plane carrying them from Sao Paulo to the northern city of Natal crashed into a hillside during heavy rain on Tuesday afternoon, police said. They said they did not yet know the cause of the crash.
Mendonça, 59, co-wrote “Inferno” with Terence Blanchard, a trumpeter and composer who became famous for scoring James Brown’s live album “Live at the Apollo.” Before Mendonça, “Inferno” was an improvisational expression with strong rhythms and electronic elements.
“It is not just one note that dies in the crash, but scores of passages,” said the Times critic Jon Pareles. “These pieces flounder and flare but maintain a flicker of life and energy.”
A digital-age rock guitar hero, Mendonça played on a string of top-selling albums in Brazil, and his explorations of Brazilian and Afro-Caribbean jazz moved many musicians and listeners.
“Mendonça challenged his listeners with what music could be in the context of the 21st century,” said Luis Filgueiras, a musician who collaborates with him. “He took real risks.”
Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1950, Mendonça was among the few horn players fluent in Brazilian Portuguese. As a teen, he was already standing out among his peers. His band was called “Megalitos,” which stood for “flying machines.”
He started his music career with a popular cover of “The Days are Gone,” popularized by blues legend Johnny Nash. He joined the New York-based band Cabutón Brasil and later one of Brazil’s most prominent jazz groups, Excellences Clarinetistes Brasileiras (ECB).
A vital bridge between Brazilian and American jazz, he made his mark in international jazz circles, reaching out to the Latin American world of Afro-Cuba, Afro-Brazil and Fulano rhythms.