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Flamenco guitarist Carlos Montoya dies


Carlos Montoya, a guitarist and composer who played an important role in transforming flamenco from a localized Spanish folk form into a style with an international following, died on Wednesday. He was 89 and lived in Wainscott, N.Y.

The cause of death was heart failure, said his son Allan Montoya of Wainscott.

Mr. Montoya was among the first flamenco guitarists to free his instrument from its accompanying role in dance and vocal performances. Before him, flamenco guitarists were able to show their virtuosity and improvisational flair in brief solo spots within ensemble programs, or in the ingenuity of their accompaniments. An exception was Mr. Montoya's uncle, Ramon Montoya, who is generally credited in guitar histories as the first to give full recitals of solo flamenco guitar music.

Following in his uncle's footsteps, but touring and recording far more widely, Mr. Montoya began giving solo recitals in the 1940s.

Mr. Montoya was a prolific composer and arranger, and an early crossover artist. In addition to flights of improvisation based on traditional flamenco forms, he recorded arrangements of "St. Louis Blues" and other jazz and popular songs. He never learned to read music, but he allowed others to notate and publish his pieces so that aspiring players could learn his techniques.

He always pointed out, however, that the published scores were merely guidelines. He never abandoned the improvisational tradition that lies at the heart of flamenco, an Andalusian Gypsy form in which the only givens are rhythmic and harmonic patterns that evoke specific emotions.

The work he regarded as his most enduring was the Suite "Flamenca," which he composed with Julio Esteban and Estela Bringuer.

Carlos Garcia Montoya was born in Madrid on Dec. 13, 1903, to a family of Spanish Gypsies. His mother, an amateur flamenco guitarist, gave him his first lessons, and apart from a brief period of lessons with a local barber who also taught the guitar, he had no formal training. By the time he was 14, he was accompanying singers and dancers in cafe performances.

In 1928, he joined a troupe led by Antonia Merce, a dancer who used the name La Argentina. He toured with the ensemble for three years, and then worked with several other dancers, including Vicente Escudero and La Teresina, with whom he toured the United States and the Far East in the mid-1930s.

Mr. Montoya had by then set his heart on a solo career, although he at first met resistance from audiences that considered the guitar only one component of a true flamenco performance. But in the 1950s and 1960s, he built a tremendous following through extensive touring and dozens of recordings for RCA and Paramount Records.

In 1940, Mr. Montoya married Sally MacLean, an American dancer. The couple settled in New York and a few years later Mr. Montoya became an American citizen.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife and another son, Carlos Jr. of Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

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