Isabella Mendes: Local Pianist, Vocalist, Performer
Daniela Rodriguez-Larrain ’23
On October 14, Isabella Mendes helped Hopkins celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by performing a medley of Brazilian jazz classics with her band The Bossa Nova Project at an all-school Assembly. Afterward, she held a music workshop in the Athletic Center for the student body.
Growing up, Mendes had a passion for music, and she always felt particularly drawn to the piano. “I asked my mother for a piano as early as I could speak, and was drawn to pianos everywhere, from little toy pianos to full grand pianos,” said Mendes. Mendes began taking piano lessons in São Paulo, Brazil at the age of seven and began to perform publicly soon afterward.
When she was fifteen, Mendes moved from São Paulo to New Haven and began attending the magnet school the Educational Center for the Arts. Even while studying Civil Engineering and Business at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Mendes never lost sight of her true dream to become a musician. After graduating, Mendes collaborated with one of her professors and a local bassist to start a band, eventually adopting the name Sambeleza, a combination of the name for the Brazilian dance, Samba, and the Portuguese word for beauty, beleza. A couple of years later, she began The Bossa Nova Project, the group that performed at Hopkins in October.
In addition to performing, Mendes has always been a songwriter, mostly composing piano solos at first, and later writing for larger ensembles. In the wake of 9/11, Mendes composed a piece for a quartet called Better Days. Mendes explained, “I got a few of my high school musician friends together to perform Better Days and things unfolded from there.” Now, Mendes draws inspiration for her songwriting from many sources, listening to everything from Brazilian vocalists to American pop singer-songwriters to classical music: “I love listening and discovering new music and seeing others perform. That’s truly inspiring to me.”
Teaching is another way Mendes explores her love for music. In high school, she taught piano to kids in her neighborhood to help pay for college, and at WPI, Mendes had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant in the music department. Currently, Mendes teaches voice and piano lessons through her music studio IMMusic in Hamden, CT. Mendes said, “I like to take my time getting to know each student’s learning style and figuring out the best ways to teach music creatively and mindfully while taking into account the student’s needs/abilities/development.”
Ultimately, performance is where Mendes’s heart lies. This summer, Mendes and her band performed at several outdoor events around Connecticut, including at the Branford Jazz Festival and at the Jazz Series at the Fairfield Library. She said, “I love outdoor performances in the summertime. Something about the sun on the stage and the light breeze in my hair makes me feel inspired.” Her debut album, Blame Destiny, a “fresh blend of pop, jazz, rock, and Brazilian influence,” is available on iTunes, CD Baby, Spotify, and Amazon.