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Jorge Pardo on the legacy of the flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia

Paco de Lucia
Gabriela Canseco
Paco de Lucia

Paco de Lucia was considered by many to be the greatest flamenco guitarist who ever lived. He shaped the sound of contemporary flamenco. He expanded the possibilities of the music, bringing jazz and classical elements into it and collaborating with artists from around the world

Paco died at age 66 in 2014. In this, the 10th anniversary of his death a major tribute to his influence and innovations is being held in New York City. The celebration is called Paco de Lucia Legacy and is taking place over five days and nights, bringing eight events, and 33 artists to Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, Le Poisson Rouge, Instituto Cervantes and Symphony Space. The aim is not only to celebrate the man’s life but to demonstrate how his work - beginning in a small Spanish town—came to transcend all musical borders, and some physical ones as well.

From the very beginning, music and family were one thing for Paco. He was mentored by his guitar player father, and by his older brother Ramon. And he recorded his first album Los chiquitos de algeciras with his other brother, Pepe, when he was just 14 years old.

As his career unfolded, he built relationships with musicians that mirrored the intimacy and intensity of family. Saxophonist and flutist Jorge Pardo, who is among artists who are traveling from Spain to New York this week, told me, “For me Paco was not just a musician, he was an older brother.”

At the same time, like the rest of his generation, he was desperate to enter, and create, a new world.

Paco was an explorer. Bringing the outside worlds of jazz and classical music to the deep folk tradition of flamenco music Paco de Lucia repositioned Spain on the world stage and cast a new light on its future.

But Paco himself didn’t seem to think in those terms. He was just doing the next thing in front of him. So, for example, when he asked flute player Jorge Pardo to join him in the studio one day, he wasn’t necessarily setting out to make history or define an era. He just needed a new arrangement for his record.

Pardo remembers, “We were at the same record label. We knew each other from there. One afternoon we were having some dinner at the cafeteria in the studios, and we were rehearsing in one studio and Paco was recording his album, Paco De Lucia Plays Manuel de Falla. So he was there, and said how you are doing, this and that. And then he said, oh, listen, what are you doing this afternoon? I said, well, we are in the studio, at the studio rehearsing. Would you come with me and try to improvise some arrangement? I said, yeah, why not? And that started everything.”

Pardo brought the sound of the flute to flamenco which opened up new registers of feeling. But he had not been thinking about flamenco as his primary interest. Jorge Pardo says that, in fact, it was only after hearing Miles Davis experiment with Spanish musical forms, particularly on Sketches of Spain, that he realized the richness of his own tradition.

He told me, “You realize that, wow, that music is being seen by great musicians from abroad and they're doing something. So we are fools, we are silly with our music. Somebody else has to do it, and we have it here on hand.”

This week The Paco de Lucia Legacy will be a truly historic gathering of flamenco musicians, friends, collaborators, disciples and artists who were influenced by Paco. It’s an unprecedented convocation of Spanish musicians in New York, and a family reunion as well.

Leo Sidran is a Grammy winning multi-instrumentalist musician, producer, arranger, composer, recording artist and podcast host based in Brooklyn, New York.