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.
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