Vince Mendoza: Color, Counterpoint and Open Ears


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Working With Joni Mitchell

AAJ: I think I must ask about Joni Mitchell. You did the 2000 Both Sides Now and 2002 Travelogue records for her.

VM: Well, both records had a lot to do with my relationship with Larry Klein. Of course, over the years, we've become good friends—but we've also realized that our approach to writing and recording, and the people we like to listen to, and the people we like to read, and the photospheres we like, were all similar. And also, our points of departure with a lot of the music we worked on, whether it was [bassist] Kyle Eastwood, or Joni, or whoever, were similar.

So we had a working language, and a mutual trust, so he let me do what I needed to do, what I wanted to do. And I trusted that I had certain parameters that I needed to work with, and that I could leave others behind. So those two records came out of that relationship.


For the first one, as you know, most of them are standards. We did a couple of Joni's tunes. And the experience was so nice that we immediately went into plans to do another one, which consisted of all her music this time. I think it was partly because we thought that on the first record, her songs were the most effective in an orchestral setting, treated as tone poems.

Her poetry is so wonderful, and deep, and interesting, that to write poetry in music was the natural thing to do. So the second record was really all about writing tone poems with her music. Of course, there were a lot of challenges involved in that—when to use guitars and when not to, when to use her parts and when not to use her parts, what is composed and what isn't. All the problems inherent in redoing such staples in the American popular culture.

That was a challenge. But just the thought of doing orchestral tone poems to her music was natural; the words are so vibrant and deep that was a natural thing to want to dive into that pool.


Metropole Orchestra

AAJ: As you point out, you've very involved now with the Metropole Orchestra, the Dutch group. This is really your primary gig now, and you've done a lot of work with them. You did a recording with Elvis Costello last year. Tell me about this group, and how you accentuate that.

VM: Well, the Metropole is a sixty-piece jazz and pop orchestra that works as part of the radio system in the Netherlands. They are, simply put, the only full-time symphonic jazz and pop orchestra in the world. They play everything—they play jazz and pop, world music, film, television. They've done rap concerts, and of course they play a lot of Dutch pop music.

My aim with this orchestra since last year, as the artistic director, is to try to get them out on the world stage, playing interesting projects in all different genres. Not only in jazz, but world music and pop. I want to really put them on the map as a group that everybody needs to know about. So we're having some interesting times; things don't work quickly, but we've scheduled some cool projects. We're doing the North Sea Jazz Festival this year with [trumpeter/composer] Terence Blanchard. This year we had [Argentine bandoneon player] Dino Saluzzi doing a concert with Mariza, the Portuguese fado singer. We had John Scofield also this year. Next year is [Brazilian guitarist] Egberto Gismonti and [Italian composer] Ennio Morricone—they're not playing together. They're separate events. That would be interesting though!

Vince Mendoza

We're doing some recordings. You heard the Elvis recording [My Flame Burns Blue (Deutsche Grammophon, 2006)]. We're doing a recording with the composer and pianist Jim Beard. We're doing a recording with [composer] Gunther Schuller and one with Vicente Amigo, the flamenco guitarist.

So it's a mix of everything. It's a wonderful group; they're very talented and they speak a lot of different musical languages and they understand them all.

AAJ: It sounds like one of the best gigs in the world.

VM: It is a pretty darned good gig. I always feel happy to get out of bed to go to work in the morning, and you can't complain about that. I'm really doing what I had talked about doing when I was a kid—to be as involved in as many different ways of making music as possible.

AAJ: Of all the work you've done, do you have any favorite projects—including both your own compositions and arrangements for others? Is there anyone you'd like to work with that you haven't?

VM: When Joni's Travelogue record came out—when it was released—I sat down and listened to it. I was truly depressed for many months, because I thought, "I cannot do better than this. It's so beautiful, and it was done so well, played so well, mixed and balanced so well—every little note that was supposed to happen, happened. I just thought, "Shit, I can't do any better than this. I should retire.

Which, of course, is not true, because we're always pushing ourselves to do different things. But if I had to think of one thing I'm the most proud of, I'd have to say those Travelogue records. I still listen to them now, and they're still really extraordinary. I regret that we were not able to tour with that project, because it would have been wonderful to hear her again with a live orchestra, singing that music. And where it would have taken her, and the audiences that heard her—I think it could have been a wonderful thing. I think I'm most proud of those records.

And I have fond memories of all the records, because they represent a certain period in my development, and my relationships with other musicians that I want to remember. But purely on a musical basis, the Travelogue records were great, and I think I also really feel a lot for Epiphany as well, because I got to work with Kenny, and Mike and Pete. It's always wonderful. So those two records were my favorites.

Selected Discography

Joe Zawinul, Brown Street (Heads Up International, 2007)
Randy Brecker with Michael Brecker, Some Skunk Funk (Telarc, 2006)
Elvis Costello with the Metropole Orkest, My Flame Burns Blue (Deutsche Grammophon, 2006)
Yuring Honing, Symphonic (Challenge, 2006)
Stefano Di Battista, 'Round About Roma (Blue Note, 2002)
Joni Mitchell, Travelogue (Nonesuch, 2002)
Björk, Vespertine (Elektra, 2001)
Björk, Selmasongs (Elektra, 2000)
Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now (Reprise, 2000)
Vince Mendoza, London Symphony Orchestra, <Epiphany (Zebra Acoustic, 1999)
Bart van Lier, Twilight (Koch Jazz, 1998)
Kyle Eastwood, From Here to There (Columbia, 1998
Vince Mendoza, Sketches (ACT, 1994)
Jimmy Haslip, Arc (GRP, 1993)
Mendoza/Mardin Project, Jazzpaña (Atlantic, 1992)
Vince Mendoza, Instructions Inside (Manhattan, 1991)
Vince Mendoza, Start Here World Pacific, 1990)
John Abercrombie, Animato (ECM, 1990)
Vince Mendoza, Vince Mendoza (H.I.T. Avenue, 1989)
Peter Erskine, Transition (Zenon, 1987)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Pamela Fong

Bottom Photo: Jos L. Knaepen

About Vince Mendoza
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