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Adie Mendez Says Confidence Comes From Jazz Background

Adie Mendez
Adie Mendez
Adie Mendez performing in July 2021 at Nightshop in Bloomington

Adie Mendez won't release her debut album until later this year. But raves for her collaborative songwriting with other Bloomington-Normal artists and her live performances are already trickling in. The 17-year old U-High student, an IMEA All-State Vocal Jazz selection for 3 years running, said that strong jazz foundation is a common thread through her music.

“The freedom you get with it is amazing,” said Mendez in a recent visit to the WGLT studios. “I've been learning a lot over the past year about classical music theory. And I think the idea that jazz just completely defies most of it is so cool … just like you can have fun with it. Doing improvisation with jazz has also been so cool because you're always a half a step away from the right note, and you can't mess it up as long as you have the confidence. And that has been something I've put into my life a lot. If you have the confidence and go with whatever you're doing, then you're never gonna sound wrong. Well, you can say some wrong things, but I've just loved that part of it and bringing that part ... that confidence into my life has been a connection.”

Mendez said the work she's done with Bloomington R&B/hip-hop artist Darius (Williams) on his debut album is hint of what will be in her own album.

“We've collaborated over the past year ... just getting out to a park and writing together, recording together, and doing stuff on the fly. I've been writing all of my own lyrics for that and any melody that I did for that I was either pulling from parts of the music that we had in the background, or I was making it up myself. He definitely gave me a lot of creative freedom there,” said Mendez.

Mendez said her debut will likely draw more from R&B than Hip-Hop, and will lean on that jazz background.

“I really like how my voice sounds with that R&B style,” said Mendez. "But I think there are times that I like more of that indie-like, soft spoken (style) with a ukulele. And that's how I always write my music. I'm collaborating with someone that I go to school with. His name is Aiden Fernandez. He's absolutely wonderful with creating beats and creating backtracks. And that's been a lot more R&B style with that jazz sense in it.”

When asked for an audio sneak-peek, she pulled out a mostly finished demo of a song titled “In a Daze.”

“It’s a feeling of whenever you're with the person that you love so much. And it's kind of a screenshot in time. You just take this moment and you're like, in this moment, I'm so in love with where I am in my life. It doesn't even necessarily have to be another person. It could be part of your life just a place in your life. That's what I wanted to replicate in this song,” said Mendez.

For those of a certain age, “In a Daze” has the feel of a Minnie Riperton or Stylistics slow jam you might have heard on Top-40 radio in 1973. For others it would fit comfortably into their “70s retro soul” Spotify playlist.

“I've been really excited to start to get this music out, said Mendez.”

If you’ve seen the movie “Summer of Soul,” the song would also fit nicely into that documentary of the Harlem Cultural Festival series from the summer of 1969.

“Yeah, I got to watch a couple clips with my dad. It was so interesting how they talked about how it had so much to do with the racial background and everything going on at the time,” said Mendez.

The film with music now over 50 years old has already made a deep impression on her.

“I know that music is political, and I know every action and every gathering has a purpose behind it. But I thought that was so interesting how much people recognize that it was for such a big cause," said Mendez. "The way that they were able to put it all together, the fact that people believe this guy (promoter Tony Lawrence) to just have this huge festival with all of these major artists was amazing first of all, but the turnout was incredible. And the fact that this was all hidden for so long, all these tapes, was shocking … this seemed like such a big deal and I had never heard anything about.”

Unlike the political bent of “Summer of Soul” and much of the music in it, Mendez said lyrics on her upcoming album will be more personal.

“This project is based off a poetry project that I had, talking about the stages of grief through the end of a relationship. That song (“In a Daze”) has more of this romantic feel to it. You are falling in love with this person or you're in love with the place that you're in in your life, then going through the bumps. Like the red flags and going through ... all these different parts of grief. This is what the album is going to be based around."

She said she later wants to include more political and activist sides of herself and learning to write the songs of her own beliefs.

Adie Mendez plays the Destihl Soundboard Series in Normal this Saturday.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.
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