Mr. Donato began leading his own groups in the early 1950s while also working as a sideman. He played accordion on Luiz Bonfá’s first 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 preferred style had grown so complex that audiences complained they couldn’t dance to it, and he had difficulty finding work in Brazil. He accepted a job backing Carmen Miranda at a Lake Tahoe resort, and relocated to the United States.

As the 1960s began, he was welcomed by Latin and jazz musicians. He recorded with Cal Tjader, Astrud Gilberto, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaría and Eddie Palmieri. (He played trombone in Mr. Palmieri’s La Perfecta, a brassy salsa band Mr. Palmieri called a “trombanga.”)

The vibraphonist Dave Pike recorded an entire album of Mr. Donato’s compositions, “Bossa Nova Carnival,” in 1962, and the saxophonist Bud Shank put Mr. Donato in charge of his 1965 album, “Bud Shank & His Brazilian Friends.” “This is João Donato’s baby,” Mr. Shank wrote in the liner notes. “I’ve turned all the problems over to him and I just relax and play.”

On his own albums for U.S. labels, Mr. Donato drew on jazz and Caribbean influences as well as Brazilian ones. His pivotal 1970 album, “A Bad Donato,” was a radical turn toward funk, merging Brazilian-rooted melodies and rhythms with electric keyboards and wah-wah guitars. The keyboardist and arranger Eumir Deodato, who worked with Mr. Donato on that album, went on to have a worldwide Brazilian funk hit with his version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001).”

Mr. Donato’s album “A Bad Donato,” released in 1970, merged Brazilian-rooted melodies and rhythms with electric keyboards and wah-wah guitars.

Mr. Donato returned to Brazil in 1973. There, a friend persuaded him to record songs with lyrics rather than solely instrumentals, including his own modest but earnest vocals. His tuneful, easygoing 1973 album, “Quem É Quem,” was not an immediate hit, but it has been widely praised over the years; in 2007, Brazilian Rolling Stone placed it among the 100 greatest Brazilian albums.


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