Mendoza takes on a jazzy flavor
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 27, 2011 - Javier Mendoza has been a strong presence on the St. Louis music scene since the late 1990s, has toured throughout the United States as well as in Europe over the past several years, and has released nine full-length recordings as a leader over the past dozen years.
Although Mendoza prefers to see himself in the broad category of singer-songwriter, it's clear that his Latin heritage is a key element in his own compositions as well as his artistic choices. It's a strong and vibrant thread that has become an essential part of his musical DNA.
Mendoza was born in Virginia to a mother of Spanish descent and a father who is Mexican. He was initially raised in Spain and Germany, but came to St. Louis in the early 1990s to attend Saint Louis University, where he played on the soccer team before injuries turned his focus to music.
Mendoza earned a songwriting contract with Warner Chappell, writing songs for Latino artists such as Ricky Martin and Carlos Robles. Eventually, he decided to pursue his own career as a performer, and began making a name for himself in the St. Louis area with recordings such as "Tinta Y Papel" and "Step Into My Place."
Mendoza's last recording was issued in 2009 in both English and Spanish language versions - "You" and "Tu." On "Tu," Mendoza sang the lyrics to the compositions he had originally written in English in Spanish - assisted by noted Spanish poet Alvaro Tato in the translation.
This Friday and Saturday at Jazz at the Bistro, Mendoza showcases another aspect of his music - one that has not been a major part of his stylistic approach over the years. Backed by longtime musical compatriots Dave Aholt on keyboards, drummer Joe Meyer and percussionist R. Scott Bryan and with the added support of guitarist Dave Black, bassist David Karns, alto saxophonist Jim Stevens and trumpet player Rob Endicott, Mendoza will present "An Evening of Jazz Latino."
Given that Mendoza built his strong fan following with a sound that's based on rock, pop, folk and Latin music influences, a step into the Latin jazz style might seem to be new territory for him. But as Mendoza explained during a recent afternoon interview at a West County Starbucks, where Mendoza agreed to meet before picking up his son from a Spanish-speaking pre-school.
"I have played Jazz at the Bistro before," Mendoza says. "It was part of their summer series in 2009, and although it was billed as jazz, I really wouldn't call what I did then Latin jazz. But this time, I'm definitely taking things in more of a jazz direction."
According to Mendoza, he based his upcoming Jazz at the Bistro performances on something he had planned to do in conjunction with a Cinco de Mayo performance a couple years ago and that also he had hoped to do at his 2009 Bistro sets.
"I really conceptualized this approach two years ago when I was planning a big Cinco de Mayo thing that I was hoping to do at Jazz at the Bistro," explains Mendoza. "The plan was to take 12 of my more Latin songs, and make them fit into more of a jazz mold. But it never came together, and last year I did a tour of Europe, so it was put on hold. But now it's happening."
Mendoza is especially pleased that he's going to be singing all the lyrics to his songs in Spanish at the Bistro - and that the musicians he wanted to work with him in this Latin jazz format were available for this weekend's performances.
"It's definitely important to me that for this show everything I sing will be in Spanish," explains Mendoza. "It just really fits the feel that I'm trying to find for these Bistro shows. And the rehearsals with the band are really amazing. Jim and Rob have worked really hard on the horn parts. I'd communicated to them what I wanted by singing horn lines, Jim charted everything out and they sound great!"
Although Mendoza is excited about exploring Latin jazz directions at the Bistro, he clearly understands his musical strengths - and limitations.
"I know this is being billed as an 'Evening of jazz Latino,' and actually that's a good way to think of it," says Mendoza. " I love Latin jazz and that's definitely the approach I'm aiming for with these performances. But I still think of it as more of a singer-songwriter show. The songs really are the main focus. So in the end, it's really my music with a jazz accent. You can at least call it "Latin jazzy!"
After his performances at the Bistro this weekend, Mendoza plans to visit relatives in Spain in February before finalizing a new online project through that will allow fans to subscribe to get his music directly through his website through a tiered subscription process.
"After the Bistro and some early February shows I have scheduled, I'm heading to Spain," says Mendoza. "I just need to disconnect for awhile and enjoy reconnecting with my relatives over there. But before I leave, I'll also be finishing up some changes to my website that will let people subscribe at various levels to get a certain number of downloads of new songs I'm working on for my next CD - and get them before the CD comes out sometime around June."
The Internet and social media have revolutionized not only the way music is distributed, but also the manner in which it's packaged. Traditional CDs released on both major labels and small independent labels are still sold in record stores and other retail outlets, but that distribution system is clearly broken as an efficient model to distribute music.
Mendoza hopes that his web page-based subscription system for fans will prove beneficial for fans, for his ability to get his music distributed and for his ability to make a living through his music.
"As I work on recording the new CD, I plan on getting a new song up on the website every couple of weeks and making it available to subscribers," explains Mendoza. "It's a way to keep the music fresh and flowing and not just tied to a specific date for a CD release. It also will be good for me as a songwriter. I'll be able to get my music out there more quickly - and get feedback on it. I'm definitely excited about the possibilities!"
Terry Perkins is a St. Louis freelance writer, whose areas of interest include music.