João Donato

Joao Donato began his recording career when he was just 15 years old. This was a difficult task given that he was a protégé of Altamiro Carilho, a master in the field. Bud Shank, Ron Carter and Elmir Deodato were also among his recordings. He has 29 albums to his name, all of which were recorded between 1953 and 2005. He is a major musician and arranger for the bossa-nova movement. His music has inspired many generations. Joao Gilberto admitted to having learned his bossanova beat at the violino from Donato’s piano playing. He is often viewed as a detached genius and a crazy person. Maybe he is both. He began making music at an early age and was soon animating dance parties using his accordion. A sergeant in Acre’s Military Band gave him his first music ideas. He moved to Rio at the age of 11 and began studying piano with Professor Werther. He was already an accordion player at age 15, playing at suburban balls. The Star label with Altamiro Carilho and Seu Regional released his first recording at 78 rpm. However, Donato is not listed on the record. He was also a performer at the Sinatra-Farney fan club in Rio. This group gathered important Brazilian jazz producers, musicians, and journalists. He was 17 when Radio Guanabara hired him as a sideman for the Ze do Norte program. He remained there for two more years. Fafa Lemos, the great violinist, hired him to join his group at Monte Carlo nightclub in 1952. He played in several other nightclubs that brought together Rio’s best musicians. These included Sacha’s and Drink’s as well as Bon Gourmet and Plaza where bossa nova was born. Joao Donato and seu Conjunto was his first solo album. It was a 78-rpm record for Sinter and contained “Tenderly” as well as “Invitation”. He recorded another 78 rpm under the same title in May 1953 for the same label. He recorded with Os Namorados, an instrumental and vocal group, for a 78-rpm. The songs included “Eu Quero Um Samba” by Haroldo Barbosa/Janet de Almeida. Later, Joao Gilberto recorded the song solo. In October 1953 and January 1954, he also recorded two more albums with Os Namorados. Os Namorados, the group without Lucio Alves, was the same as Os Namorados da Lua. Alves decided to leave the group Os Namorados da Lua for a solo career and banned his former bandmates from using the name. He wanted it to be reserved for future projects. Donato was also a singer for the Garotos da Lua group. Radio Tupi hired them. Donato was the group’s arranger and pianist, and Joao Gilberto joined them as a substitute for Jonas Silva in 1949. Before they met, their strong friendship started before they even met. Joao Gilberto was told by someone that he would meet a man “exactly like” him before he left Bahia. Donato was also told by a friend that the crooner he was about to meet was very similar to him. They only spoke to one another when they met. Many bizarre anecdotes about both musicians are dated from this period. They would later move to Luiz Tels’ apartment (from Quitandinha Serenaders) and stay there for a time. Gilberto recorded two albums in July and November 1951 with the Garotos da Lua. Radio Tupi fired Gilberto from the group shortly after. They deemed him “too bad of a crooner” and had him removed from the group. 1954 saw Donato record another 78 rpm at Sinter. Donato, despite his dislike for the cold climate of Sao Paulo in 1956, moved to the city and joined the Os Copacabanas as well as the Luis Cesar Orchestra. In March 1956, he recorded another solo album for Odeon, this time with the same group. He recorded Cha Dancante with Tom Jobim in the same year. He composed “Minha Saudade”, his first hit in 1958 with Gilberto. Donato was at the Copacabana Palace that day with the Orchestra of Copinha. Gilberto used to visit there frequently to talk with Donato in the orchestra’s breaks when Dick Farney’s band performed. Donato stated that Gilberto, Donato, confessed that he was the inspiration for Gilberto’s bossa nova beat on the violao in an interview from the ’70s. Maestro Gaya also stated that. He also recorded two collaborations with Gilberto in 1958 on Dance Conosco (Copacabana), the mambo “Mambinho”, and the samba (“Minha Saudade”), both of which he recorded on the LP. He was rejected by every nightclub in 1959 for his Astrud Gilberto Album. His modern swinging piano, which was ahead of its time, was too rhythmically strong and difficult to follow by other musicians. Customers complained that it was not danceable. To make sure he was available to all, he used to request free gigs from nightclub owners. He was not allowed to play until after 4 a.m. when most customers had gone. He was in such dire straits that he decided to leave Brazil. After touring Mexico with Elizete Caroso, his friend Nanai settled in the U.S., and telegraphed Donato inviting him to spend a two-week period there. Donato left for the U.S. and stayed there for 14 years. He recorded Arriba, which was a popular Latin song. For Mongo Santamaria, Vaya Puente, Tito Puente (Philips 1961), At the Black Hawk Santamaria, (Fantasy 1992), The Astrud Gilberto Album (Elenco 1964), Shadow of Your Smile (Verve 1965), Brazil! Brazil! Brazil! Bud Shank (World Pacific 1967), Solar Heat For Cal Tjader (“Skye 1968”), and Prophet for Cal Tjader (“Verve 1969). Due to their long-standing friendship and the fact that they had worked together in Rio for many years, Donato was able to create a rare synergy with Milton Banana, a Brazilian drummer, who rhythmically complimented each other’s ideas. Banana was the original musician to create a bossa nova drum beat. He used brushes, a cloth, and a stick to the snare’s edge. Many musicians copied his sound, and all bossa nova recordings feature that sound. Donato was unable to attend the Carnegie Hall concert, so Milton Banana and Donato accompanied Gilberto for six weeks on a tour of Italy. Gilberto claimed that he had a finger pain which prevented him from playing soccer. He was being harassed by many people who wanted to contract him. They stopped all activities while he recovered. Gilberto believed that only one person could heal him. He went to Paris to see Dr. Zapalla who was the acupuncturist for Brazilian soccer player Pele. Donato and Milton left Europe after four weeks of waiting and no money. Donato came back to Brazil. 1962 saw the release of the LP Muito a Vontade by Polydor, which featured his compositions. Polyfar reissued the LP later and Pacific Jazz Japan released it on CD. He recorded simultaneously through Polydor A Bossa Muito Moderna de Donato e seu Trio, and it was released the following year. After finishing the albums, he returned to the U.S. In 1965, with Brazilian violonista/composer/singer Rosinha de Valenca, he recorded for Bud Schank Bud Shank

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