[JPL] RI Jazz Broadcaster dies at 80

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Fri Aug 4 22:52:32 EDT 2006



R.I. jazz broadcaster Jim Mendes dies at 80



08/01/2006 01:00 AM EDT

BY ANDY SMITH
Journal Television Writer

Friends and colleagues of broadcasting pioneer Jim Mendes remember a shy 
man with a big heart, a wonderfully warm and mellow voice, and a passion 
for jazz.

Mendes, 80, died Friday evening at the Kindred Heights Nursing Center, in 
East Providence. According to his friend Larry Silva, a WJAR engineer, he 
was listening to jazz at the time, which is entirely appropriate.

Along with Fred Grady and Carl Henry, Mendes was one of the key jazz DJs in 
the state during the '50s and '60s, spinning discs on WPAW-AM, WICE-AM and 
WJAR-AM. Of Cape Verdean descent, he was also one of the first broadcasters 
of color in the market.

Mendes was so much a part of the Rhode Island jazz scene that he had songs 
written for him: "Mood for Mendes" by Billy Taylor, "TreMendes" by Terry 
Gibbs, "Just Jim" by Mike Renzi.

"He had a truly encylopedic knowledge of jazz," said John Worsley, a 
pianist and long-time jazz columnist for The Times, of Pawtucket.

"I've been on the air with guys who claim to know jazz, and they read all 
their information from notes or the back of record albums. Jim didn't need 
any of that, he just knew it," Worsley said.

Silva, who helped care for Mendes when his health began to fail, said NBC 
radio used Mendes as an expert commentator when it would broadcast from the 
Newport Jazz Festival.

Then there was the voice.

Bill Pandozzi, a local jazz DJ who emulates the Mendes style, calls it "a 
velvet voice for radio."

Channel 10's Frank Coletta remembers growing up listening to Mendes on the 
overnight shift at WJAR-AM, 920 on the radio dial. "He didn't have one of 
those powerful radio voices. It was gentle, mellow, perfect for that hour 
of the day."

"It was like James Earl Jones, but not as deep," said veteran jazz drummer 
Artie Cabral. "As soon as you heard it, you knew immediately who it was."

Charlie Jefferds, now of WWLO-FM (Lite Rock 105), worked with Mendes at 
WICE and at Channel 10.

"He was a shy, quiet guy -- the word 'gentleman' says a great deal about 
him," Jefferds said. "I'm not sure he knew how talented he was, and if he 
did know, he certainly didn't let on."

Mendes would never try to force an opinion on anyone, Jefferds said, 
although if you asked him a question about jazz it was clear he was 
extraordinarily knowledgeable.

Many of the great names in jazz -- Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington -- knew 
Mendes, Jefferds said, but he was never one to name drop.

Drummer Artie Cabral, a veteran jazz musician, remembers Mendes dropping in 
at the Kings and Queens club, in North Providence, to listen to the music.

If there were jazz stars in town, Cabral said, they invariably knew Mendes.

Maybe because his radio work exposed him to a lot of different music, 
Cabral said Mendes' tastes in jazz encompassed a wide area, from Count 
Basie to bop.

Outside the music world, Mendes became the booth announcer for Channel 10 
during the '60s and '70s. He shared the job with Art Lake, back in the days 
when TV stations used live announcers for station promos and announcements.

He also had a Sunday morning public affairs program on Channel 10, The Jim 
Mendes Show, that aired at 11.

Coletta said that in the '70s, the station would start the broadcast day at 
5 a.m. with just a set of color bars on the screen, accompanied by some 
music tapes compiled by Mendes. If the station forgot to air the tapes, 
people called to complain.

Mendes served in the Army in World War II and graduated from the Rhode 
Island Radio and Electronics School after the war. Before he was on the 
radio, he fixed radios.

Larry Silva said Mendes always loved technology, and happily embraced the 
computer age when he was in his seventies.

Silva said he first met Mendes in 1970, when Mendes was on WJAR radio. 
Silva used to bring Mendes his dinner from area diners. "Our early 
relationship was based on music and food," Silva said.

"He was a caring, giving guy, who put everyone else before himself."

Funeral services will be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the Rebello Funeral 
Home, 901 Broadway in East Providence. Calling hours will be today from 4 
to 8 p.m.


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