LOS ANGELES — Sergio Mendes says his first “magical encounter” happened during his first trip to the United States.
It was 1962, and after playing at Carnegie Hall, the Brazilian pianist went to New York’s storied jazz club Birdland to hear saxophonist Cannonball Adderley perform. Adderley invited Mendes to sit in with his band, changing the young musician’s life. They went on to make a bossa nova album together.
Now 73, Mendes has shaped his five-decade career around such unexpected collaborations, performing across genres with musicians from North and South America. He continues on his latest album, “Magic,” which features contributions by John Legend, will.i.am and Janelle Monae, along with Brazilian artists including Milton Nascimento and Carlinhos Brown.
“Now I’m the old guy working with the young people,” Mendes says with his signature smile. “But the same pleasure I had with Cannonball, (this) gives it to me now.”
The album’s title refers to the alchemy that Mendes discovers when working with other artists. A pianist since age 7, he knew he would be a musician but didn’t realize how collaborating with others would expand his creativity.
“Being very curious, I love to learn. Working with other people gives me the opportunity to do that, to learn the other person’s world and to see if we can incorporate the two worlds together,” he said. “In the beginning we have a melody as a reference, but after that, it’s magic.”
Mendes spent a year making “Magic” in Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles, where he now lives. Although he hadn’t recorded with Legend or Monae before, he composed melodies he thought might suit them, and asked them to create corresponding vocals. Mendes recalled how Legend wrote the lyrics to “Don’t Say Goodbye” on the spot at the studio.
“He said, ‘Sergio, I need an hour and a half,’ ” Mendes said. “So we kept playing the melody for him. . . . He sat at the computer and looked to me and said, ‘I’m ready. It’s done.’ ”
He said Legend brought him to tears with the song they recorded that day.
“Magic” also reunites Mendes with will.i.am. They collaborated on 2006’s “Timeless,” which yielded a hip-hop makeover of Mendes’s breakthrough hit, “Mas Que Nada.”
“The song became a hit again all over the world and brought a whole new generation who never heard that melody before,” Mendes said. “We play that melody anywhere in the world, people immediately start singing with you. That’s what I mean about melody. That’s a universal chant. It’s the song of my life.”