Renowned Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia dies at 66

Posted on February 26, 2014 by UNITED PHOTO PRESS MAGAZINE

Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia plays a guitar during a rehearsal of closing concert of the Biennial of Flamenco in the Andalusian capital of Seville October 9, 2010.
Paco de Lucia, the influential Spanish guitarist who vastly expanded the international audience for flamenco and merged it with other musical styles, died suddenly on Wednesday of a heart attack in Mexico.

The 66-year-old virtuoso, as happy playing seemingly impossible syncopated flamenco rhythms as he was improvising jazz or classical guitar, helped to legitimize flamenco in Spain itself at a time when it was shunned by the mainstream.

"I learned the guitar like a child learns to speak," the guitarist said in a 2012 documentary.

Born Francisco Sanchez Gomez, he became famous in the 1970s after recording bestselling album "Entre Dos Aguas", becoming the first flamenco musician to perform at Madrid's opera house Teatro Real in 1975.

Paco's albums such as "El Duende Flamenco de Paco de Lucia" and "Almoraima" reinvented traditional flamenco.

He toured extensively with well known international artists and played with the likes of Carlos Santana and Al Di Meola, happy to expand flamenco rhythms into jazz, although that upset flamenco purists.

"It has been said, and rightly so, that Paco de Lucia has never been surpassed by anyone and guitar playing today would not be understood without his revolutionary figure," Spain's arts association SGAE said in a statement.

De Lucia went on to record flamenco jazz fusion with Di Meola and John McLaughlin in a series of now legendary concerts, and also recorded with Chick Corea.

He was highly acclaimed after playing Joaquin de Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" at London's Festival Hall in 1991, attended by the composer himself, and considered one of the best interpretations of the piece.

De Lucia memorised the piece by ear as he did not read music, and gave it a distinctive flamenco flavor.

"With the guitar I've suffered a great deal, but when I've had a good time, the suffering seemed worthwhile," he said in the documentary.

He also formed a partnership in the 1970s with singer Camaron de la Isla which played a large part in creating the New Flamenco movement.

A spokesman for the city hall in Algeciras, where de Lucia was born, confirmed his death and said the city had decreed two days of official mourning.

Emma Martinez - Author of Flamenco, 
All You Wanted To Know

I discovered flamenco and Paco de Lucia with [the singer] Camaron de la Isla in the 1970s, thanks to my flamenco-playing cousin. His music and flamenco have been a constant companion and inspiration throughout my life.

I recall managing to get backstage at a London concert of Paco where we compared fingernails (he didn't believe I was a classical guitarist) and I told him how I thought his interpretation of the Concierto de Aranjuez was the best.

I remember my knees were shaking, I was so excited about meeting him. He thanked me and muttered under his breath that Narciso Yepes thought it was "folkloric" (a common classical guitarist put-down of flamencos).

For me, as for the vast majority of my contemporaries, Paco was, is and forever will be the ultimate flamenco guitarist. As a classical guitarist (retired), for me he also became simply the world's greatest guitarist regardless of genre, and one of the world's best composers for guitar.

Live at MONTREUX Jazz Festival