Paco de Lucía, 66, guitar great and flamenco innovator
MADRID, Spain - Paco de Lucía, 66, the Spanish guitarist who vastly expanded the international audience for flamenco and merged it with other musical styles, died of a heart attack Tuesday evening in Mexico.
Mexican authorities said Mr. de Lucía was on vacation with his family at the Caribbean beach resort of Playa del Carmen. Complaining of chest pain, he was taken to a hospital and died en route.
The virtuoso, as happy playing seemingly impossible syncopated flamenco rhythms as he was improvising jazz or classical guitar, helped to legitimize flamenco in Spain at a time when it was shunned by the mainstream.
"I learned the guitar like a child learns to speak," he said in a 2012 documentary.
Born Francisco Sánchez Gomez, he became famous in the 1970s after recording the best-selling album Entre Dos Aguas, becoming the first flamenco musician to perform at Madrid's Teatro Real in 1975. Albums such as El Duende Flamenco de Paco de Lucía 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 Lucía 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.
Mr. de Lucía 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 his performance of Joaquín 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. Mr. de Lucía memorized 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 the singer Camarón de la Isla that played a large part in creating the New Flamenco movement.
A spokesman for the city hall in Algeciras, where Mr. de Lucía was born, confirmed his death and said the city had decreed two days of official mourning.