John Bagnato studied improvisation with Don Cherry at the Naropa Institute and with Geri Allen during his doctoral studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where he researched the significance of blindness among popular recorded blues and gospel musicians. His research was supported by a Mellon Fellowship and presented at the national conferences of the American Musicological Society, the Society for Ethnomusicology, and the International Conference of the Blues, where he was awarded the Luther Brown Prize.
As a guitarist living in New Orleans for a decade prior to hurricane Katrina, he performed and toured with Big Chief Donald Harrison, Jr. in Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and Europe and recorded with Mario Adnet, Bill Summers, and Trombone Shorty. He continues to draw from that experience as a performer and researcher of the music of Brazil and Latin America, especially interested in the interrelation of these regions’ musical and cultural practices with those of New Orleans. He presented his research on Gottschalk and conducted jazz improvisation workshops in Bahia, Brazil, at the University of Feira de Santana. His interests include jazz, blues, and Latin American concert music for the guitar as well as popular musical styles he plays on the Brazilian cavaquinho and Cuban tres.