Primary Instrument: Band/ensemble/orchestra
Born in 1961 in Norwalk, Connecticut, Mendoza began learning classical guitar and piano from an early age. His musical influences ran from Bach to Aretha Franklin to Henry Mancini. However, discovering Miles Davis, Gil Evans, and later, Igor Stravinsky and Alban Berg gave him a further complex perspective of the construction of musical forms and ideas. Taking up the trumpet during high school, he later earned a degree in music composition at Ohio State University, before moving to Los Angeles. The music of Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter became a strong influence on his big band writing. He began working in the studios, composing music for television, while continuing to add to his extensive body of work written for big band. He completed his post-graduate composition and conducting studies at the University of Southern California. During this time he met a kindred spirit in drummer Peter Erskine, who included him in his mixed ensemble recording, Transition on Denon records. Mendoza contributed several compositions to this recording as well as on some of Erskine's subsequent recordings. They have since become frequent collaborators.
His early solo albums on Blue Note Records, “Start Here” and “Instructions Inside”, were critical triumphs that featured such artists as John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Ralph Towner, Bob Mintzer, Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine and others. “Start Here” was voted one of Jazziz Magazine's “Top Picks” and Mendoza was recognized as “Best Composer/Arranger” by Swing Journal's critics poll in Japan. Through his profile-building stint as guest arranger and conductor of the WDR Big Band, based in Cologne, Germany, Mendoza became widely known in Europe as a multi-talented composer arranger with a deep understanding of contemporary styles. His work on the CD “The Vince Mendoza / Arif Mardin Project: Jazzpaña” with the WDR Big Band, brought him a Grammy nomination for “best instrumental arrangement”. Since then, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Charlie Haden, Andy Narell, Kurt Elling and John Abercrombie have prominently featured Vince Mendoza's compositions and arrangements on their albums.
Mendoza's alliance with the Metropole Orchestra of the Netherlands began in 1995 with a project that included saxophonist Bob Mintzer, another long time collaborator. He is now the Music Director and Chief conductor and is frequently seen working with the Metropole at concerts, festivals and recordings with the likes of Elvis Costello, Herbie Hancock, The Brecker Brothers and more.
Managing to combine his own sophisticated solo work with widely acknowledged skills as a sympathetic vocal arranger has seen him earn the respect and ear of both the serious minded jazz and classical audience as well as that of discerning contemporary music fans and artists. Mendoza’s arranging has appeared on many critically acclaimed projects that include dozens of albums with song writing legends such as Björk, Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin and Joni Mitchell. He has two Grammy awards and twelve nominations. 2001 saw Mendoza collect the Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for his beautiful arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s Both sides now and again in 2004 for the epoch-defining song “Woodstock”. The latter was one of many symphonic arrangements that Mendoza wrote for Mitchell’s ‘final’ studio album, ‘Travelogue’, which in itself offered the singular challenge of scoring selected highlights of Mitchell’s multi-faceted and deeply emotional songs from her 40-year career. For this project Mendoza drew on many of his most important stylistic references, from Gil Evans to Brahms and Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky and Gyorgy Ligeti. And once again he found himself working with the cream of the jazz world, including Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock among a top-draw supporting cast of musicians featured on this album. His emotive orchestra writing has also been featured on the last two albums of the young jazz chanteuse Jane Monheit, including her latest, “Taking A Chance On Love”. His skill for creating classic, sophisticated string arrangements also led to his orchestral score on the multi-million selling album “Swing When You’re Winning” by the enfant terrible of British pop, Robbie Williams. He was the orchestral voice behind the score to Lars van Trier's Dancer in the Dark featuring Björk, as well as the dreamy orchestrations on her recent CD titled Vespertine.
Mendoza's work as an arranger can also be heard on many expansive jazz projects from the mid-1980s onwards, that include work with the Yellowjackets, Al DiMeola, Gino Vanelli, Joe Zawinul, Mike Stern, Kyle Eastwood and the GRP All Star Big Band, among many others. His television music has also received nominations for an Emmy Award, while his music for the “World Cup” closing ceremony was broadcast worldwide.
There is no end to the versatility of his skills or opportunities to exercise them. Mendoza has written commissioned compositions and arrangements for world-renowned classical and jazz groups that include the Turtle Island String Quartet, the Debussy Trio, the L.A. Guitar Quartet, the Metropole Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the BBC. His music was featured at the Berlin Jazz Festival. He has performed major works at the Montreux and North Sea Jazz Festivals. And he actively conducts concerts of his music in Europe, Japan, Scandinavia, and the U.K.
All this has led to his latest solo album, “Epiphany”, a stunning set of compositions for the London Symphony Orchestra and jazz soloists. Effortlessly combining his beautifully crafted orchestral arrangements, strong melodic compositions, extended forms and inspired jazz soloists, this is an album only Mendoza could conceive and execute with such grace. Joined by old friends, Abercrombie, Brecker, Erskine, Lovano and Kenny Wheeler, as well as the sublime bass work of Marc Johnson and piano of John Taylor, Mendoza sets the scene of each piece with the orchestra, allowing these seven great jazz “voices” to deliver the next layer of emotive harmony and expression. With such a huge palette of both sounds and sonorities the results conjure up strong narratives. Mendoza’s skill for casting the hard-edged brilliance of Michael Brecker for the harder tempos alongside the soft lyricism of Joe Lovano for the poetic pulse of quieter songs defines his huge talents as a truly modern composer, conductor and arranger.