Instrumentalist (pianist and accordionist). Arranger. Singer.
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 compão", 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
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 JoãoDonato" 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
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
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
"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. Visit:
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
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.