Cuban music legend Paquito Hechavarría dies

Cuban pianist Paquito Hechavarría, who made music history with his “tumbao’’ rhythm for the Miami Sound Machine, died Thursday night in his Miami Beach apartment. He was 73.

“He was a great friend and a great musician. With him gone, a great part of the history of Cuban music is lost,” said music producer Emilio Estefan, who recalled that both “Conga” and “Oye Mi Canto,” as well as several more Gloria Estefan successes themes in which Hechavarría participated, won critical praise.

“Although many tried to imitate him, no one could do the ‘tumbao’ better than him,” Estefan said. “Paquito was Paquito, a man with a good heart whose main interest was music.”

Paquito Hechavarría was born Feb. 21, 1939. He studied in the Music Conservatory of La Habana.

While in Cuba, he performed with the Riverside Orchestra, Conjunto Casino and Los Armónicos of Felipe Dulzaides.

“We were friends since 1953, when we played with our small groups in Sunday programs at Radio Cadena Habana,” said percussionist Nelson “Flaco’’ Padrón. “And during the time of Los Armónicos, we alternated with La Lupe at La Red Club.”

After he arrived in Miami in 1962, the pianist played in the dance halls of the Fontainebleau Hotel’s Boom Boom Room and other clubs of the times. In 1964 he recorded a jazz album with Padrón and in 1965 he recorded American standards.

In the ’70s, he joined the Fly Out Band, playing the theme of the famous TV series “¿Qué pasa USA?”

“Paquito brought Cuba with him in his heart and in his hands,” said William Sánchez, conductor of the Sábado Gigante band. “With his death, one of the great legends of our music disappears.’’

Hechavarría also left his imprint in “Piano” (1995), a solo recording with singer Rey Ruiz.

“I had the pleasure of recording “Frankly” (2009), his last album, in which he was surrounded by great jazz legends like Phil Woods and Brian Lynch,” said filmmaker and music producer Nat Chediak, who considers Hechavarría a “giant” of the keyboard.

“Paquito was one of the piano giants of the Golden Era of the Cuban music,” said Chediak. “His contagious swing and his ‘tumbao’ were unique.”

Hechavarría is survived sons Félix and Franky, and daughter Jennifer.

Services were held.