Rafael Mendez: A History (Courtesy of the Mendez Library)



  • Rafael Méndez
    Born on March 26, 1906 in Jiquilpan, Mexico, Rafael Méndez’s musical training began at five when his father needed a trumpet player for an orchestra comprised of family members. The Méndez orchestra, a popular performing group, appeared regularly at festivals and community gatherings. Rafael loved the trumpet and actually practiced more than his father allowed.
    In 1916, the Méndez orchestra performed for guerrilla leader Pancho Villa. So taken with the family orchestra, he “drafted” them into his army. Rafael quickly became Villa’s favorite player, and after several months demanded that Méndez stay with the rebels, even after the rest of his family were allowed to return home. Months later, Méndez was released from the rebel army, and he began to perform in several traveling circus bands, in addition to the family orchestra. He joined the Mexican army in 1921, playing in the army orchestra. At age twenty, Méndez moved to the United States, working in steel mills in Gary, Indiana. Unhappy that he could not play his trumpet as much as he desired, Méndez moved to Flint, Michigan, where he began working at the Buick Company plant and playing in the company band. After winning a last minute audition for the Capitol Theatre orchestra, Méndez moved to Detroit and began working with other orchestras in the area, including the Ford orchestra and the Fox Theatre orchestra. It was also here that he met and married Amor Rodriguez.
    In 1932, Méndez suffered the first of two, horrific embouchure accidents. While warming up at the Capitol Theatre, a door was carelessly thrown open, his trumpet crushed against his face. After studying unsuccessfully with several famous trumpet teachers, he returned to Mexico to study with his father. A year later, Méndez returned to the United States, moved to New York and joined the band of Rudy Vallee. After touring Southern California with the Vallee band, Méndez and his wife fell in love with California and moved there in 1937. Méndez’s twin sons, Rafael Jr. and Robert were born shortly before the move to California.
    In 1939, Méndez joined the MGM orchestra, where he played on several movie soundtracks and performed regular live concerts. A Decca records representative offered him a twelve record contract after hearing him featured in an MGM concert. He was also contracted to arrange, compose, and author trumpet method books by the Carl Fischer company. Méndez began to appear more frequently as a soloist with orchestras away from the movie studio, appearing on such well-known shows as the Bing Crosby Show, the Red Skelton Show, the Art Linkletter Show, Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater, and Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra featured Méndez as a regular soloist at the Hollywood Bowl. Méndez’s popularity as a trumpet soloist led to conflicts with his MGM schedule, and in 1949, he left the orchestra.
    It was at this time that Méndez began his full-time career as a trumpet soloist. He appeared with symphony orchestras, college ensembles, concert bands and big bands across the US and Europe. Soon he was performing more than one hundred concerts per year. Having a strong sense of duty toward education, he began to work with public school bands as a soloist and clinician more frequently as his career progressed. His fame led to him signing an endorsement contract with the F.E. Olds & Sons trumpet manufacturing company. In the 1950s, Méndez began to appear in concert with his twin sons, who had also learned to play trumpet. He also began to appear regularly with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
    By the late 1950s, Méndez was having serious asthma related problems and difficulty playing the trumpet to his own high standards. In 1967, he was hit in the face with an errant bat while attending a baseball game in Mexico. He eventually healed, but the accident, combined with his failing health led him to cut his concert schedule drastically. He retired from performing in 1975, but continued to compose and arrange. Rafael Méndez died, at home, on September 15, 1981.
    Courtesy of the Méndez Library



  • Good post. Mendez was the "serious" trumpet player of my youth. The Mendez Olds was lusted for like the Red Rider bb gun in the Christmas Story by every middle school trumpet player.

    This story you posted is repeated word for word over and over again at varius sites on line. Makes me wonder who was first to write it. I went looking for the Roy Rogers connection and the nearest to a real explanation is an assertion he was the musical director on his radio show. I was having an "Oh Poncho", "Oh Cisco" moment there for a minute.... different show with no trumpet players that I remember.



  • @Niner said in Rafael Mendez: A History (Courtesy of the Mendez Library):

    The Mendez Olds was lusted for like the Red Rider bb gun in the Christmas Story by every middle school trumpet player.

    Maybe I misread this, but I never lusted for an Olds, no matter what the model. Some of my classmates had them, but they weren't held up as any Holy Grail by any account.



  • @Niner said in Rafael Mendez: A History (Courtesy of the Mendez Library):

    This story you posted is repeated word for word over and over again at varius sites on line.

    Hi Niner,
    I was Internet surfing and found it. It claims to come from the Mendez Library. Mendez was/is a hero to a lot of us. If you like Mendez, occasionally a guy sells a DVD of Mendez on Ebay. It's a collection of TV appearances and (my favorite) a home movie with Mendez talking about the injury he sustained to his lip. It's around 5.00 USD if you can find it. Very much worth the cost if you are a Mendez fan.



  • @Kehaulani said in Rafael Mendez: A History (Courtesy of the Mendez Library):

    @Niner said in Rafael Mendez: A History (Courtesy of the Mendez Library):

    The Mendez Olds was lusted for like the Red Rider bb gun in the Christmas Story by every middle school trumpet player.

    Maybe I misread this, but I never lusted for an Olds, no matter what the model. Some of my classmates had them, but they weren't held up as any Holy Grail by any account.

    You must have suffered from a tin ear as a child. Clearly an Olds plays better than any other trumpet a kid is likely to have. In fact, as I was always proud, the band director always borrowed my Olds Ambassador whenever he wanted to play something to show how exactly the melody should go. He really liked the sound it produced after trying the Conns and whatever kids had then. Trumpet was his main instrument and he could play it professionally and probably did.



  • @Dr-Mark I'm not enthused about him enough to spend any money. However.... here is his teaching video. It seems still great advice.



  • Tin ear? I played first trumpet throughout Jr. H.S. and H.S except for about the first three months of my playing. In H.S. I was all-state first in band and played second of only three in orchestra and I sang in the choir. We also had ear-training and sight-singing in my H.S. where I did just fine.

    While some of my band buddies played Olds, there were also Selmers, Conns and Bachs represented. Probably others I just didn't notice. I personally had the hots for a Martin Committee but opted for a Conn Connstellation, which horn my teacher, BTW, played as first in the symphony.

    Not preferring a certain player's horn doesn't mean not liking the player. I don't follow the logic.



  • @Kehaulani When I was in the 6th,7th, and 8th grade I had never heard of a Committee and my folks weren't investing in any professional grade horn. However... the Olds Mendez was the only "professional" horn I had ever heard of because Mendez was the only classical playing great trumpet player I had ever heard of. If Rafael approved of the horn with his name on it then it had to be the best. Well..... back in the late 50's and early 60's ... that was what I thought. Oh....while we are doing bragging.... I was first chair first in school too. But...it didn't last. I found out many people were better than me by tallent and not afraid to work to develop it. I discovered girls and a part time job in high school and slowly moved down the row of players until I left altogether.



  • What works for one may not for another.

    The only Olds I ever really took a liking to, having played most variants a little here & there, was the original Studio - it is one of the most flexible in tone and character I have ever encounter. But, the more it can do for you, the more it can do to you. As for the Mendez: I can appreciate its qualities including the light response, but I'ld rather have a Strad.

    Now as for the Connstellation, that's a different story. I do not care for 38Bs at all, but feel the 28B is fantastic (both "Constellation" models, but radically different). That's me. I'm guessing here, but I suspect Kehaulani will prefer the 38B.

    The great thing about so many options in trumpets is that everyone has a good chance of finding what helps them be their best.



  • @OldSchoolEuph said in Rafael Mendez: A History (Courtesy of the Mendez Library):

    Now as for the Connstellation, that's a different story. I do not care for 38Bs at all, but feel the 28B is fantastic (both "Constellation" models, but radically different). That's me. I'm guessing here, but I suspect Kehaulani will prefer the 38B.

    I like the 28B....because I have one and don't have the 38B. I like it better than my old Olds Ambassador.... I think it's the large bell flare that has most to do with it.



  • Thank you, Dr. Mark, for your OP. It has been a while since I listened to any Mendez recordings. The dramatic compelling Mendez bio you posted inspired me to give a listen again to some of his work while I graded assignments for the online course I teach. I had to really focus in order to not be too much distracted by what I was hearing. His virtuosity was simple amazing! Grading is done now and I am inspired to practice.

    Jim



  • I don't remember hearing anything really moving from Mendez. This is not a barb, it's just that I simply haven't heard anything. And remember, I went on tour with him.

    I and many of my friends were amazed at his tonguing. It was awesome. But I found his vibrato a little dated, if not corney, and the repertoire I heard was based more on flash than sensivity.

    I would love it if anyone could point me to something that could show me some sensitivity from him. Thanks.



  • Hi Kehaulani,
    How about this?



  • Thank you. There was definitely some sensitivity there.

    I guess part of my problem is his tone and particularly, his vibrato. Just too close to an arena bullfighter's or a mariachi's approach for me when he plays from the typical western-music repertoire. The other music is fine. Actually a window into the musical style of others for his time period.



  • @Kehaulani said in Rafael Mendez: A History (Courtesy of the Mendez Library):

    Just too close to an arena bullfighter's or a mariachi's approach for me
    Hi Kehaulani,
    That type of sound and music was his formative background. I agree, it's a window into another time when trumpet style was different. Now we have more trumpet styles than a dog has hairs!



  • @Dr-Mark I agree. Mendez was from a different time warp. From a technical point of view he still seems to be an expert to me. If trumpet players were opera singers he would still be Caruso.



  • I have always admired, enjoyed, and often marveled at, Rafael's amazing playing. And though my first music professor told me to use the largest mouthpiece possible, the pro player I later took lessons from played a Bach 10.5 C and felt it would be better suitable to me. I took his advice and played one quite successfully for 12 years before quitting in 1965. I was often criticized by other trumpet players for using a small mouthpiece while most of them were using 1.5 to 3 Bachs. But I stubbornly stuck to the 10.5C and when I later learned that Rafael Mendez always used a 10.5C I felt so much better about my decision. If it was good enough for Mended it was bloody well good enough for me. I'd be still using one today but my old chops had changed 50 years later and the smaller mp just didn't work anymore. But every once in a while I dig out my old faded gold rimmed Bach 10.5C and play a few easy tunes just for old times's sake.



  • Hi GeorgeB,
    I played a Bach 10.5 in high school. Over the decades, and after purchasing a ton of mouthpieces looking for that "silver bullet", I still play a Bach 10.5. Little did I know back then that the "silver bullet" is called "meaningful practice".



  • @Dr-Mark

    Interesting to hear that, Dr.Mark. According to the professional player that taught me back in 1953, the 10.5C was a popular mouthpiece with orchestra trumpet players during that era, though not necessarily so with some of the lead players who preferred a very shallow cup. For the kind of playing I was doing back then ( part of a 5 man combo doing weddings, private functions and a whole lot of teen dances ) the 10.5C seemed to be the perfect piece for me, because there were weddings when that mp got me through many a 3 hour gig. And like I said in my post, I still like to play it every now and then.



  • Generally spoken, there's too much pontification and peer pressure going around on internet forums. For some, it's a diversion from just getting down and doing the hard work.

    I played a Schilke H (similar to Bach 7C but with more comfortable rim), through H.S. and part of college. Then switched to a Purviance 4*D4. Played the Purviance in the service. One of the Air Force's only two bands in the Far East, so it couldn't have been too shabby.

    I'm not saying play a "small" mouthpiece. I'm saying ignore all the peer pressure and play what fits.


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