Mr. Donato began leading his own groups in the early 1950s while also working as a sideman. He played the accordion on Luiz Bonfa’s debut album, released in 1955, as part of a studio band that also included Antonio Carlos Jobim. Mr. Jobim produced Mr. Donato’s debut album, “Chá Dançante” (1956), and Mr. Donato wrote songs with João Gilberto, including Minha Saudade, which became a Brazilian standard.
But by the end of the 1950s, Mr. Donato’s favorite style had become so complex that audiences complained that they could not dance to it, and he was having difficulty finding work in Brazil. He accepted a job supporting Carmen Miranda at the Lake Tahoe Resort, and moved to the United States.
With the onset of the sixties, Latin and jazz musicians welcomed him. He has recorded with Cal Tjader, Astrud Gilberto, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria and Eddie Palmieri. (He played trombone in Mr. Palmieri’s La Perfecta, a salsa brass band that Mr. Palmieri called a “trombanga”).
Vibraphonist Dave Pike has recorded an entire album of Mr. Donato’s compositions, Bossa Nova Carnival In 1962, saxophonist Bud Shank put Mr. Donato in charge of his 1965 album, “Bud Shank and His Brazilian Friends.” “This is Joao Donato’s baby,” Mr. Shank wrote in the liner notes. “I’ve shifted all the trouble onto him and I’m just relaxing and playing.”
On his own albums for American labels, Mr. Donato has drawn on jazz and Caribbean influences as well as Brazilian influences. His pivotal 1970 album, “A Bad Donato,” It was a radical shift towards funk, fusing melodies and rhythms with Brazilian roots with electric keyboards and guitars. Keyboardist and arranger Eumir Deodato, who worked with Mr. Donato on that album, went on to become a hit in Brazil with his version of “Too Sprach Zarathustra (2001)”.
Mr. Donato returned to Brazil in 1973. There prof A friend persuaded him to record songs with lyrics instead of just instrumentals, including his humble but earnest vocals. His wonderfully simple 1973 album, “Quem É Quem”, It was not an instant hit, but it has been widely praised over the years; In 2007, Brazilian Rolling Stone ranked it among the 100 greatest Brazilian albums.