The eight-time Grammy Award-winner worked over the decades with well-known musicians such as Milton Nascimento.
Vasconcelos died of lung cancer on Wednesday in the northeastern city of Recife where he was born. He was a master of the single-string percussion instrument known in Portuguese as the berimbau.
The American jazz magazine DownBeat named Vasconcelos percussionist of the year every year from 1983 to 1991.
He started learning music with his musician father and by the time he was 12 he was playing a drum kit, performing at bars with local groups. Nana rose to national prominence after he moved to Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s and started playing with Nascimento.
A master of the berimbau, a single-string, multi-toned Afro-Brazilian instrument, he is best known for collaborations with Brazilians Milton Nascimento and Egberto Gismonti, Argentine Gato Barbieri and Americans Don Cherry and Pat Metheny.
His inventiveness with bongos, bells, gourds, maracas and other Afro-Latin musical instruments added the same rich, mysterious complexity to the period’s percussion as his collaborators added to melody, harmony and song structure.