Jerry González & The Fort Apache Band at Getxo Jazz in 2010.
Trumpeter, conguero, and bandleader Jerry González died Monday morning of cardiac arrest produced by smoke inhalation suffered in a fire at his home in Madrid, Spain, the previous night, reported the Spanish newspaper El Pais. He was 69.
Of Puerto Rican descent but born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, González had moved to Spain in 2000.
He was an extraordinary musician who crossed with ease and inimitable flair between tradition and experimentation; jazz, salsa, flamenco, and back — and left his mark every time, in every style.
His enormous musical legacy includes his work with the Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorkino in the 1970s (a one-of-a-kind ensemble that produced the exceptional albums Concepts in Unity and Lo Dice Todo); his brilliant debut as a solo artist, Yo Ya Me Curé (1980); the Fort Apache Band, a high watermark in Latin Jazz (find Rumba Para Monk, The River Is Deep, or Obatalá); and his explorations in flamenco with singer Diego El Cigala, and guitarist Niño Josele (Jerry González y Los Piratas del Flamenco)
He had celebrated his 50 years in music with a series of concerts in Madrid in 2016.
Spanish film director Fernando Trueba, who featured González in Calle 54, his love letter to Latin Jazz, once called him “the last pirate of the Caribbean.”
He was a musical adventurer and innovator, but throughout his many explorations, a basic idea served him as North: know the tradition.
“I don’t care what you want to do,” he told me in an interview for The Boston Globe in 1991, “if you want to preserve and build on the classic styles, first you have to learn them well.”