Instrumentalist (pianist and accordionist). Arranger. Singer. Composer.
Father of three children: Jodel, Joana and Donatinho.
Born in Rio Branco, state of Acre, he used to play music with bamboo small flutes and saucepans in his childhood. One day he got an eight bass accordion as a gift and, later on, a higher accordion. In 1945, he moved to Rio de Janeiro with his family. There, he started to play on his school’s parties. On one of these parties, he met the band “Namorados da Lua” and started a friendship with Lúcio Alves, Nanai and Chicão. Four years later, he was already playing in the jam-sessions held at Dick Farney´s and at the Sinatra-Farney Fan Club, to which he was a member. In 1951, he participated in the northeastern music program “Manhãs da roça”, broadcasted by Zé do Norte, on the Rádio Guanabara. At the same time, he started to study piano.
He started his professional career in 1949, as a member of the Altamiro Carrilho e Seu Regional´s band, with which he recorded, in that year, a 78 rpm with the songs”Brejeiro” (Ernesto Nazareth) and “Feliz aniversário” (Altamiro Carrilho and Ari Duarte). His participation on the record was omitted by the label. Thereafter, he replaced Chiquinho do Acordeon in the Fafá Lemos´band in a show at the Monte Carlo nightclub (RJ). Thereafter he performed in other nightclubs, such as Plaza, Drink, Sacha’s and Au Bon Gourmet, among others.
In 1953, he formed his own band, “Donato e Seu Conjunto”, with which he launched, in that year, two 78 rpm records: “Tenderly” (J. Lawrence and W.Gross)/”Invitation” (Bronislau Kaper) and “Já chegou a hora” (Rubens Campos and Henricão)/”You Belong to Me” (Pee Wee King/Stewart/Price).
He joined the band “Os Namorados”, with which he recorded three 78 rpm records:”Eu quero um samba” (Haroldo Barbosa and Janet de Almeida)/”Três Ave-Marias”(Hanibal Cruz), in 1953; “Palpite infeliz” (Noel Rosa)/”Pagode em Xerém” (Sebastião Gomes and Alcebíades Barcelos), in 1953; and “Você sorriu” (Valdemar Gomes and José Rosa)/”Não sou bobo” (Nanai, Ari Monteiro and L. Machado), in 1954.
Still in 1954, he formed the “Trio Donato”, with which he launched a 78 rpm including the songs “Se acaso você chegasse (Lupicínio Rodrigues and Felisberto Martins) and “Há muito tempo atrás” (J. Kern and I. Gershwin).
In 1956, he moved to São Paulo, where he was the pianist of the band “Os Copacabanas” and the “Orquestra de Luís Cesar”. In that same year, he launched a 78 rpm with the “Donato e Seu Conjunto”, including the musics “Farinhada” (Zé Dantas) and “Comigo é assim” (Luiz Bittencourt and José Menezes). Yet in 1956, he recorded his first LP, “Chá dançante”, produced by Tom Jobim for the Odeon label. In the repertory, the songs “Comigo é assim” (Luiz Bittencourt and Zé Menezes), “No Rancho Fundo” (Ary Barroso and Lamartine Babo), “Se acaso você chegasse” (Lupicínio Rodrigues and Felisberto Martins), “Carinhoso” (Pixinguinha and João de Barro), “Baião” (Luiz Gonzaga and Humberto Teixeira), “Peguei um Ita no Norte”(Dorival Caymmi), “Farinhada” (Zé Dantas) and “Baião da Garoa” (Luiz Gonzaga and Hervé Cordovil).
In 1958, he went back to Rio de Janeiro and started to dedicate himself exclusively to the piano. In that year, he recorded two tracks on the LP “Dance conosco”: “Minha saudade”, his first success, and “Mambinho”, both with the partnership of João Gilberto. At that time, he joined the “Orquestra do Maestro Copinha”, that played at the Copacabana Palace (RJ).
In 1959, he went to Mexico with Nanai and Elizeth Cardoso. Thereafter, he moved to the United States, where he lived for three years. There, he played with Carl Tjader, Johnny Martinez, Tito Puente and Mongo Santa Maria. He made a tour in Europe with João Gilberto.
In 1962, he came back to Brazil.
In 1963, he recorded the LP “Muito à vontade”, with Tião Neto (double bass) and Milton Banana (drums). The record was launched by Polydor, standing out his compositions “Sambou… sambou” (with/ João Melo)and “Caminho de casa”. On that same year the LP “A bossa muito moderna de João Donato e seu Trio” was launched.
Soon he returned to the United States, where he lived for more than ten years. There, he recorded a LP with saxophonist Bud Shank and with guitar player Rosinha de Valença, in addition to the records “Piano of João Donato – The sound new sound of Brazil”, “A bad Donato”, which included the participation of double bass Ron Carter, and “Donato Deodato – Featuring João Donato, arranged and conducted by Deodato”, with arrangements by Eumir Deodato. He also performed with other artists, such as Astrud Gilberto, Caymmi, Tom Jobim, Eumir Deodato, Stan Kenton, Nelson Riddle, Herbie Mann and Wes Montgomery, among others. His musics”Amazonas”, in the Chris Montez´ recording, and “A rã” and “Caranguejo”, both recorded by Sérgio Mendes, gathered a great success with the North American audience.
In 1972, he returned to Brazil and in the following year the LP “Quem é quem”, was recorded and launched by Odeon. The innovation of such record was the inclusion to its repertory of music with lyrics sung by the composer himself, who had been, until then, an interpreter of instrumental music, and “Até quem sabe” (with/ Lysias Ênio) and “Chorou, chorou” (with/ Paulo César Pinheiro) are outstanding, among others.
In 1974, he was the musical director and participated in the show “Cantar”, made by Gal Costa on the Teatro da Praia (RJ). The show was recorded, and his songs “Até quem sabe” and “A rã” (with/ Caetano Veloso) were included in the repertory.
In 1975, the LP “Lugar comum”, was recorded, launched by Phonogram.
In 1986, the LP “Leilíadas” was launched.
In 1997, he recorded, with Eloir de Morais (drums), the CD “Café com pão”, for which he got two nominations for the “Prêmio Sharp” award: Best Record and Best Arranger. In that same year, he made the CD launch show at the Mistura Fina nightclub (RJ). Still in that year, he launched the CD “Coisas tão simples”, by EMI/ Odeon, and four unpublished songs of his authorship are outstanding: “Fonte de saudade” (with/ Lisias Ênio), “Everyday” (with/ Norman Gimbel), “Summer of tentation” (with/ Toshiro Ono) and “Doralinda” (with/ Cazuza). The record was launched in a show at the Mistura Fina nightclub (RJ).
In 1998, he was once more at the Mistura Fina, with the show “Café com pão”, joined by Eloir de Morais (drums).
In 1999, he recorded the CD “Só danço samba”, interpreting Tom Jobim´s works, exclusively. Also in that year, the Lumiar Discos & Editora launched the “Songbook João Donato” (book and three CDs), with the participation of Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Djavan and Daniela Mercury, among other artists. The launch show was held at Bar do Tom (RJ), with Bororó (acoustic bass), Victor Bertrami (drums), Ricardo Pontes (sax and flute), Jessé Sadoc (trumpet) and the composer himself at the piano, in addition to the participation of Nana Caymmi, Marcos Valle, Os Cariocas and Angela Rô Rô, among other performers.
In 2000, he was in the project “Rio Sesc Instrumental”, at the Sesc Copacabana (RJ), joined by Jessé Sadoc (trumpet), Ricardo Pontes (saxes and flute), Nei Conceição (bass) and Victor Bertrami (drums). On that same year he performed at the Copacabana Beach, at the closing show of the project “Rio-Bossa Nova 2000″. Also in 2000, he recorded the CD “Amazonas”, joined by Cláudio Slon (drums) and Jorge Helder (acoustic bass), launched by the Elephant Records of Vartan Tonoian (Denver, Colorado, EUA). The record included in the repertory Donato´s own compositions, standing out “Glass beads” and “Coisas distantes”, both with the partnership of João Gilberto. For the record launch, he performed at the Memorial da América Latina, with the “Orquestra Jazz Sinfônica de São Paulo” (SP), and at the Mistura Fina (RJ), with double bass Luis Alves (bass) and Cláudio Slon (drums), thereafter making a tour to Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and a mini season at the Blue Note in New York is outstanding. Still in 2000, he was awarded the Prêmio Shell de Música for the whole of his work and participated in the Free Jazz Festival (RJ), reaching a huge success towards the public and the reviews.
On February 2001 he married Ivone Belém, a journalist from the state of Rio Grande do Sul. On July of that year, in the Amazon Forrest, and with the partnership of also piano player Everardo de Castro, he composed “Amazonas: um poema sinfônico”, a theme for piano and orchestra, sponsored by the state of Amazonas government and script by Ricardo Cravo Albin. On September of the same year, he presented the symphonic piece, with the “Orquestra Amazonas Filarmônica”, arranged by maestro Laércio de Freitas, conducted by maestro Luiz Fernando Malheiro and narrated by Ricardo Cravo Albin, at the Teatro Amazonas, in Manaus.
In 2002, he launched the CDs “Brazilian time”, “Remando na raia” and “Ê Lalá Lay-Ê”(DeckDisc), and on this latest, partnerships with his brother Lysias Ênio were recorded, exclusively. In that year he also performed with the “Orquestra Jazz Sinfônica”, at the Sala São Paulo. The concert was recorded live and originated the CD “The Frog”, launched by the Elephant Records label. Still in 2002, he went to Japan, where he made 10 presentations with the singer Joyce.
In 2003, he was awarded the Prêmio APCA (Associação Paulista dos Críticos de Arte– Association of Art Critics of the State of São Paulo). He made shows in Cuba, Russia and Japan, and in many Brazilian cities, launching the CD “Managarroba”. Marisa Monte, Marcelo D2, Joyce and João Bosco joined the disk. Yet in that year he recorded with Emílio Santiago, the CD “Emílio Santiago encontra João Donato” and, with Wanda Sá, the CD “Wanda Sá com João Donato”.
In 2004, he was awarded the Prêmio Tim for the record “Emílio Santiago encontra João Donato”. Both artists made a show at the Bar do Tom (RJ), named “Emílio Santiago & João Donato”. Later on that year he went to Spain, recorded a Bossa Nova CD for the Russian market and, in Cuba, recorded the CD “Sexto sentido”. Still in 2004, he assumed the musical production of CD “Tita e Edson” (Lumiar Discos). And, thereafter, with Bud Shank, the CD “One evening with Bud and Donato” was recorded, soon after his participation in the Bud Shank show at the Chivas Jazz Festival (RJ). And still in that year he performed with Johnny Alf, Carlos Lyra, Roberto Menescal, Wanda Sá, Leny Andrade, Pery Ribeiro, Durval Ferreira, Eliane Elias, Marcos Valle, Os Cariocas and Bossacucanova, in the show “Bossa Nova in Concert”, held at the Canecão (RJ). The show was presented by Miele and had a support band formed by Durval Ferreira (guitar), Adriano Giffoni (double bass), Marcio Bahia (drums), Fernando Merlino (keyboards), Ricardo Pontes (sax and flute) and Jessé Sadoc (trumpet), with conception and artistic direction of Solange Kafuri, musical direction of Roberto Menescal, research and texts by Heloisa Tapajós, setting by Ney Madeira and Lídia Kosovski, and projections by Sílvio Braga.
On November 2004 he received from the hands of President Lula and the minister of Culture Gilberto Gil, the Medalha da Ordem do Mérito Cultural, the highest merit badge in the country.
In 2005, he recorded and launched his first DVD, “Donatural – João Donato ao vivo”, and invited to join him Leila Pinheiro, Joyce, Emílio Santiago, Angela Rô Rô and Gilberto Gil, with a support band formed by Robertinho Silva (drums), Luiz Alves (acoustic and electric bass), Cidinho (percussion), Jessé Sadoc (trumpet and flugelhorn), Ricardo Pontes (sax and flute) and Donatinho (keyboards). In the same year, he participated in the second presentation of the show “Bossa Nova in Concert”, at the Parque dos Patins (RJ). And also in 2005, he made a launch show for the DVD “Donatural” at the Teatro Rival (RJ), with the participation of Leila Pinheiro and Marcelinho Da Lua.
On April 2006 he was honored by the government of the state of Acre, that baptized with Donato´s name the modern arts and communication center, “Usina de Artes e Comunicação João Donato”, a deactivated former Brazilian nut plant. In the occasion he performed with his partner Gilberto Gil.
On June 2006, with Paulo Moura, he launched the CD “Dois Panos para Manga”, conceived on a meeting at TV director Mario Manga´s home. By that time, a record with some of the themes appreciated by the Sinatra-Farney Fã Club goers in the 50´s was suggested to the two artists. The repertory included his song “Minha saudade” (with/ João Gilberto), further to “On a Slow Boat to China” (Frank Loesser), “Swanee” (George and Ira Gershwin), “That Old Black Magic” (Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer), “Tenderly” (Walter Gross and Jack Lawrence), “Saudade mata a gente” (Antonio Almeida and João de Barro), “Copacabana” (Alberto Ribeiro and João de Barro), in addition to “Pixinguinha no Arpoador” and “Sopapo”, two unpublished compositions signed by the two artists.
On November 2006, he made historic shows: in Rio de Janeiro, at the Mistura Fina, and in São Paulo, at the Sesc Pinheiros, where he met again the 80-year old alto-saxophonist, Bud Shank. At the meeting again, after 40 years without presenting a show, a DVD documentary and a CD were recorded.
In January 2007, João Donato went to Australia, invited by Marcos Valle, for presentations with Wanda Sà and Roberto Menescal, in an outdor festival, with a public of 10.000 people.
In March 2007, he released two important CDS, considered by the critics of the brazillian newspaper “Folha de São Paulo” as a “great CD”. The first one, “Uma tarde com Bud Shank e João Donato” (Biscoito Fino Records), produced by himself, registers a meeting of Donato with his friend Bud Shank, an American saxophone player, who Donato met in 1965, when he lived in the USA, and who he met again in 2004, in Brazil, when he took a chance to record this CD.
“O Piano de João Donato” (Deck Disk Records), is Donato´s first solo album, where he interprets authorial compositions and covers of foreign standards. “The work is a signature of a musical author and a generous creator, which takes us further in the art of enjoying music”, wrote the brazillian newspaper “O Globo”. The release concerts of the solo piano CD, produced by MPB Marketing, were sold out for three days at Ibirapuera auditorium, in São Paulo, where Donato was applauded by his performances with the musicians Leny Andrade and Filó Machado, who did special appearances in the concerts.
In April of 2007 he did a small tour in the US, performing at jazz clubs in Cleveland, Chicago and New York. The critics of Chicago tribune wrote: ” The melodies of Jobim are more famous, even the most occasional listeners are familiar with “A Garota de Ipanema”, “Desafinado” e “Dindi.” But Donato´s compositions are elaborated with a similar mixture of the best arrangement skills and a remarkable economy, and the composer translates brazillian rhythm, romance and culture in few well chosen notes.
In the same tour, The New York Times published: Donato is one of the great composers of bossa nova of the generation of the end of the 1950´s and probably the musician most influenced by American jazz; his interpretations today are nostalgic and sometimes anarchically funny. The Time New York magazine announced: “The pianist João Donato has so much to do with the elaboration of the music that came to be the bossa nova as the other guitar player João, old partner of Donato. The difference, which you will listen to tonight, is that Donato kept his ears tuned with the jazz that happened on the north of the Brazilian border.
The emblematic magazine of jazz, edited in NY, Wax Poetics, dedicated 12 pages to Donato´s life and work of its edition of April/ May. “João Donato deserves a place among the brazillian music legends, alongside Antônio Carlos Jobim, João Gilberto, Dorival Caymmi, Ary Barroso and so many others, although his erratic career and the experiments with several music styles make a challenge to classify him”, says the writer Aleen Thayer, author of the article.
In April 2007 he did for the first time, a concert with his son Donatinho (keyboard player and DJ), at Oi Futuro Multiplicidades, which used to be the Museum of the Telephone. From this concert a CD was created, with Donato´s songs mixed and sampled by Donatinho.
From May 19th to June 19th 2007, Donato will go on a tour in 15 cities in Japan – the last is Tokyo- performing 15 concerts with 9 other jazz pianists, 8 Americans and 1 Japanese. It is the 10 th edition of the 100 Gold Fingers festival which happens every 2 years and is used to record a DVD with the best moments of the concert.
The name of the pianists and the year of their birth certainly draw attention: they are jazz masters and most of them were born on the first half of the past century. Each one will perform in 3 concerts in each city, with the help of two important musicians: Bob Cranshaw (bass guitar) and Grady Tate (drums). The production of All Art Promotions aimed to insert the new generation of American jazz in the tour. João Donato is the first Latin American to play at 100 Gold Fingers.
In August 2007 Donato will be in Denmark, fronting a workshop with jazz musicians. He will take this opportunity to go through all his work, for the first time in a didactic form.
As an arranger, among his work stands out the CDs “O homem de Aquarius”, by Tom Jobim, and “Minha saudade”, by Lisa Ono, in addition to records of Fagner, Gal Costa and Martinho da Vila.
The long list of performers of his songs include artists such as Gal Costa, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Tim Maia, Leny Andrade, Walter Wanderley, Nara Leão, Roberto Menescal, Luís Carlos Vinhas, Milton Banana, Luiz Eça, Tito Madi, Maysa, Dóris Monteiro, Raul de Souza, Tamba Trio, Victor Assis Brasil, Mahogani, Joyce, Bebel Gilberto, Os Cariocas, Simone, Fafá de Belém, Miúcha, Fagner, Leila Pinheiro, Baden Powell, Ithamara Koorax, Lisa Ono, Zizi Possi, Adriana Calcanhotto, Angela Rô Rô and Nana Caymmi and Leo Gandelman, among others.