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Toots Thielemans Feature Story Page 2


toots_dr. taylorJazz historian Gary Giddins relates how the harmonica was always looked at as a musical toy that you could only play chords on, not single notes, and that Toots created sounds and tones that were lyrical, personal and very moving. Toots himself said of his famous wail sounds that they came from the man that he grew into with maturity, and he learned how to “talk through his instrument.”


In 1959 when he was playing in Hamburg Germany with the George Schering Quintet, he was said to influence pre-Beatle John Lennon who frequented the club. Lennon was said to be intrigued with his harmonica playing and his use of an electric American made Rickenbacker with a short scale neck.  In 1962 he composed his most famous song “Bluesette”, with lyrics added by Norman Gimbel. This song became a major worldwide hit for several different singers and is still a much beloved and requested piece that has been re-recorded by him and commercially released on records/CDs many times over both in various studio versions and live on-stage performances performed in several different countries. Just visit You Tube to hear it played in a variety of sessions. In the late 60’s and 70’s, he spent a lot of time in the studio; hence he is heard on many different movie and television recordings. In the 80’s, he worked with Billy Joel on his “Innocent Man” album. He has performed with literally a Who’s Who in the music industry from Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Peggy Lee, The George Shearing Quintet, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Paul Simon, Billy Joel to name a few. 


Easygoing, humorous, professional, and a great guy to work with are all reasons why Toots is so well respected in addition to his musical abilities. He has received worldwide acclaim and accolades, as well. He received a joint honorary doctorate from the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), and in 2001 Thielemans was ennobled a baron by King Albert II of Belgium. In October 2008, he was honored with the 2009 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship.


tootsIf you check out his web site (, you will see that Toots Thieilmans at 87 is still on the move with play dates this summer in Belgium and Rotterdam. His nostalgic, lyrical melodies are part of our musical memory, and we salute him for his contributions to Jazz!



JazzMonthly.Com July 2009