Toots Thielemans

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This article is about the jazz musician. For the reggae artist, see Toots & the Maytals.
Toots Thielemans
Toots thielemans.jpg
Thielemans in 2006
Background information
Birth name Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor Thielemans
Born (1922-04-29)29 April 1922
Brussels, Belgium
Died 22 August 2016(2016-08-22) (aged 94)
Brussels, Belgium
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Musician
  • composer
Instruments
  • Harmonica
  • guitar
  • puccalo
Years active 1949–2014
Associated acts Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder,[1] Kenny Werner, Pat Metheny[2]
Website tootsthielemans.com
Notable instruments

Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans (29 April 1922 – 22 August 2016), known professionally as Toots Thielemans, was a Belgian and American jazz musician. He was known for his harmonica playing, as well as his guitar, whistling skills, and composing. According to jazz historian Ted Gioia, his most important contribution was in "championing the humble harmonica," which Thielemans made into a "legitimate voice in jazz."[3] He eventually became the "preeminent" jazz harmonica player.[4]

His first professional performances were with Benny Goodman's band when they toured Europe in 1949 and 1950. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1951, becoming a citizen in 1957. From 1953 to 1959 he played with George Shearing, and then led his own groups on tours in the U.S. and Europe. In 1961 he recorded and performed live one of his own compositions, "Bluesette", which featured him playing guitar and whistling. In the 1970s and 1980s, he continued touring and recording, appearing with musicians such as Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Werner, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Elis Regina and Paquito D'Rivera.

Among the film soundtracks that Thielemans recorded, are The Pawnbroker (1964), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Cinderella Liberty (1973), The Sugarland Express (1974) and Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977). His harmonica theme song for the popular Sesame Street TV show was heard for 40 years. He often performed and recorded with Quincy Jones, who once called him "one of the greatest musicians of our time."[5] In 2009 he was designated a Jazz Master by The National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor for a jazz musician in the United States.

Early years[edit]

Thielemans was born in Brussels, Belgium on 29 April 1922. His parents owned a cafe.[5] He began playing music at an early age, using a homemade accordion at age three.[6] During the German occupation of Belgium beginning in 1940, he became attracted to jazz, but was then playing on full-size accordion or a harmonica, which he taught himself to play in his teens.[5][7]

After being introduced to the music of Belgian-born jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, he became inspired to teach himself guitar, which he did by listening to Reinhardt's recordings.[6] At the time he was a college student majoring in math.[8] By the war's end in 1945, he considered himself a full-time musician.[5] He said in 1950, "Django is still one of my main influences, I think, for lyricism. He can make me cry when I hear him."[9] During an interview in 1988, he recalled, "I guess I was born at the right time to live and adapt and be touched by the evolution in the jazz language."[10]

Career[edit]

1940s–1950s[edit]

In 1949 he joined a jam session in Paris with Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis,[11] Max Roach and others.[12] He first heard the faster bebop style of jazz from records by Parker and Dizzy Gillespie after they had reached Belgium after the war. They became his musical "prophets."[6] As his small collection of jazz records grew, the music of Benny Goodman and Lester Young began to impress him the most.[9]

During a visit to the U.S. in 1948, an agent of Benny Goodman heard him play at a small New York music club. Not long after he returned to his home in Belgium, he received a letter inviting him to join Goodman's band while they toured in Europe, which he readily accepted and joined their tours in 1949 and 1950.[6] During the tour, Goodman was "shocked" when he learned that these tours were the first time Thielemans had earned money from his playing.[9] Although Thielemans was hired on as a guitarist, when Goodman's group debuted at the London Palladium, he played the harmonica due to union restrictions.[9]

During those years, he also made his first record with fellow band member, tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. In 1951 he toured with singer-songwriter and compatriot Bobbejaan Schoepen, performing strictly as a guitarist.[13]

I used to think the chromatic had limits. But with the advent of Toots Thielemans, I have come to feel that the limitations are within the player. Because as far as I can see, Toots has no limitations.

Jazz harmonica player, Charles Leighton[9]

Thielemans moved to the United States in 1952 where he was a member of Charlie Parker's All-Stars and worked with Miles Davis and Dinah Washington.[6] In 1957 he became a U.S. citizen.[14] From 1953 to 1959 he played guitar and harmonica with the George Shearing Quintet.[6] With Shearing, he added whistling to his repertoire.[6] And in 1955 he recorded his first album as a band leader, "The Sound."[6] During the 1950s, Thielemans had dominated the "miscellaneous instrument" category in Down Beat magazine's poll.[9] Jerry Murad, of Jerry Murad's Harmonicats recalls Thielemans' mastery:

Toots played the harmonica in much the same manner that many of the great jazz artists of that time played their respective instruments. No one played harmonica like Toots. I felt like throwing my harmonica away.[9]

From 1959 on he toured internationally with his small group along with intermittently recording in the studio.[6] He recorded with singers and musicians including Ella Fitzgerald,[5] Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Stephane Grappelli, J.J. Johnson, Oscar Peterson, Shirley Horn, Joe Pass, and jazz pianist Bill Evans, among others. Thielemans says that his recording with Evans' trio, Affinity, (1979) was one of his favorites.[6]

And once ("I'm a singer": The shadows of your smile) with Billy Eckstine. John Lennon bought his first Rickenbacker guitar after seeing Thielemans play it during a 1959 concert.[15][16]

1960s–1970s[edit]

Thielemans has the ultimate in technique and fantastic musical ideas of mood and expression—an unbelievable ability to translate these ideas from his mind through the instrument.

Arranger and harmonica player, Richard Hayman[9]

A jazz standard by Toots Thielemans is his own composition, "Bluesette," which he performed on harmonica[17] or while playing the guitar and whistling in unison.[6][18] He said, "If there's a piece of music that describes me, it's that song."[6] First recorded by him in 1962, with lyrics added by Norman Gimbel, the song became a major worldwide hit.[5] It has since been covered by over one hundred artists.[9]

He worked both as a bandleader and as a sideman, including many projects with composer/arranger Quincy Jones.[19] In the 1960s he performed on television with Peggy Lee.[20] In 1969 he recorded "Honeysuckle Rose Aquarela Do Brasil" with singer Elis Regina and performed with her on Swedish television special.[21]

During his career he performed on many film soundtracks, such as The Pawnbroker (1964),[6] Midnight Cowboy (1969),[6][22] The Getaway (1972), Turkish Delight (1973), Cinderella Liberty (1973), The Sugarland Express (1974),[6] The Yakuza (1974), Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977),[23] Jean de Florette (1986), and French Kiss (1995). His theme to the popular Sesame Street television show was heard for 40 years.[6][24]

His music was heard on the Belgian television series Witse, and in the Netherlands, for the Baantjer program. He composed the music for the 1974 Swedish film Dunderklumpen!, in which he also provided the voice of the animated character Pellegnillot. His whistling and harmonica playing was heard on Old Spice commercials in the 1960s.[6]

1980s and later[edit]

During the 1980s he performed with the bassist Jaco Pastorius in ensembles ranging from duet to the Word of Mouth Big Band.[25] In 1983 he contributed to Billy Joel's album An Innocent Man, and his trademark harmonica can be heard on "Leave A Tender Moment Alone." (The two later collaborated on this selection in concert, and this was recorded on video.) A year later, he appeared on the Julian Lennon song "Too Late for Goodbyes" from the album Valotte.[26]

In 1984, he recorded with Billy Eckstine on the singer's final album (I Am a Singer), featuring ballads and standards arranged and conducted by Angelo DiPippo. In the 1990s, Thielemans embarked on theme projects that included world music. In 1998 he released a French-flavoured album titled Chez Toots featuring guest singer Johnny Mathis.[27]

During those years, he often recorded songs as personal tributes to those who were influential during his career. On Chez Toots, for example, he included "Dance For Victor," which he dedicated to his sometimes keyboard accompanist, Victor Feldman.[28] Similarly, he recorded "Waltz for Sonny"[29] as a tribute to saxophonist Sonny Rollins.[30] In June 1998, at Germany's Jazzbaltica, he paid tribute to Frank Sinatra who died a month earlier.[31] And during the first Caspian Jazz and Blues Festival in Azerbaijan in 2002, he performed his recorded version of "Imagine," his tribute to its writer, John Lennon.[32]

Thielemans in 1961
(Grand Gala du Disque, The Hague)

Thielmans was well liked for his modesty and kind demeanor in his native Belgium, and was known for describing himself as a Brussels "ket," which means "street kid" in old Brussels slang.[33]

Honors and awards[edit]

He received a joint honorary doctorate from the Université libre de Bruxelles and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium. In 2001, Thielmans was raised into the Belgian nobility by King Albert II and given the noble title Baron for life, this in recognition of his contribution to music.[34]

In 2006 Thielemans was honored by an all-star tribute concert for him at Carnegie Hall. Pianist Herbie Hancock and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera were among the performers.[5] In 2009, he was given the highest U.S. honor that can be accorded to a jazz musician, the distinction of "Jazz Master," by The National Endowment for the Arts.[5][35]

Later life[edit]

He was nominated for the title of the Greatest Belgian in 2005. In the Flemish version he finished in 20th place, and in the Walloon version he came 44th.[36] On 23 January 2009, he joined guitarist Philip Catherine on stage at the Liberchies church (Belgium) in memory of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Django Reinhardt. In 2012, the Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts in New York celebrated Thielman's 90th birthday with, among others, Herbie Hancock, Eliane Elias, and Kenny Werner. He performed for the occasion and left the stage standing among his friends.[37]

Because of health issues that led to show cancellations, Thielemans announced his retirement on 12 March 2014, cancelling all scheduled concerts.[38] His manager stated that Thielemans "wants to enjoy the rest he deserves."[39] However, he did make one more stage appearance, unannounced, in August 2014, at the Jazz Middelheim Festival in Antwerp.[40]

Death[edit]

Thielemans died in Brussels, Belgium, at the age of 94.[5]

After the announcement, the Netherlands-based jazz and pop orchestra Metropole Orkest, along with American trumpet player Quincy Jones, performed at London's Royal Albert Hall in Thielemans' honor.[41] Another concert was performed at the Brussels Grand Palace.[41]

Discography[edit]

Toots Thielemans (left) and Joe Marsala (right), c. 1947. Photography by William P. Gottlieb.
Toots at La Brasserie 1975

As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With John Denver

With Eliane Elias

With Bill Evans

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Urbie Green

With Billy Joel

With Quincy Jones

With Fumio Karashima

  • Rencontre (1999, Emarcy/Polydor Japan)

With James Last

With Joe Lovano

With Jaco Pastorius

With Oscar Peterson

With Elis Regina

With George Shearing and Dakota Staton

With Paul Simon

With Julian Lennon

References[edit]

  1. ^ video: Toots Thielemans and Stevie Wonder performing "Bluesette", composed by Thielemans
  2. ^ audio clip Pat Metheny and Toots Thielemans performing Back In Time 1992
  3. ^ Tioia, Ted. The History of Jazz, Oxford Univ. Press (2011) p. 382
  4. ^ Morton, Brian, and Cook, Richard. The Penguin Jazz Guide: the History of the Music in the 1000 Best Albums, Penguin UK, (2010) ebook
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Keepnews, Peter (22 August 2016). "Toots Thielemans, Jazz Harmonica Player, Is Dead at 94". The New York Times. p. A20. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Harmonica Giant Toots Thielemans of 'Sesame Street' Fame Dies". NBC Chicago. 23 August 2016. 
  7. ^ Toots Thielmans describes his early life at a performance in New Orleans, 1988
  8. ^ Carr, Ian; Fairweather, Digby. The Rough Guide to Jazz, Rough Guides (2004) p. 788
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Field, Kim. Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers: the Evolution of the People's Instrument, Rowman & Littlefield (1993) pp. 253-255
  10. ^ Toots Thielemans interview, New Orleans, 1988
  11. ^ "Belgian jazz harmonica great Toots Thielemans passes away at 94", The Economic Times, 23 August 2016
  12. ^ "Festival International De Jazz All Stars in the Charlie Parker discography". Jazzdisco.org. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  13. ^ "Bobbejaan Schoepen: Belgian musician who worked with Jacques Brel and Josephine Baker". The Independent. 30 July 2010. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  14. ^ "‘Toots’ Thielemans, master of the jazz harmonica, dies at 94", The Washington Post, 22 August 2016
  15. ^ "The Beatles and their Rickenbacker guitars". Rickbeat.com. Retrieved 22 August 2016. 
  16. ^ Goldman, T.R. (29 August 2015). "Toots Thielemans: A harmonica titan looks back on a stellar career". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 August 2016. 
  17. ^ "Toots Thielemans - Bluesette", Night of the Proms, Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2009
  18. ^ video: "Toots Thielemans performs "Bluesette" live, with Elis Regina, playing guitar and whistling, Swedish Broadcasting Corp., 1969
  19. ^ "Toots Thielemans and WDR Big Band, directed by Quincy Jones at Montreux Jazz Festival". YouTube. 15 June 2016. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  20. ^ "Toots Thielemans and Peggy Lee - 'Makin Whoopee'". YouTube. 4 July 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  21. ^ video: Toots Thielemans performs "Together" live, with Elis Regina, 3 min. Swedish Broadcasting Corp., 1969
  22. ^ "Midnight Cowboy" theme, Live at The Boston Pops with John Williams
  23. ^ "Toots Thielemans - Theme From Looking For Mr Goodbar". YouTube. 21 April 2010. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  24. ^ "Sesame Street Original Closing Theme on harmonica". YouTube. 26 December 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  25. ^ "Mars Jazz, Excerpted from Windham Hill promo material for Chez Toots". Marsjazz.com. Retrieved 25 June 2012. 
  26. ^ Valotte (Inner sleeve). Julian Lennon. Charisma, Universal Music Group. 1984. JLLP 1. 
  27. ^ "Original versions of Les moulins de mon cœur (The Windmills of Your Mind) by Toots Thielemans & Johnny Mathis". SecondHandSongs. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  28. ^ "Dance For Victor (Dedicated To Victor Feldman)"
  29. ^ Toots Thielemans performs "Waltz for Sonny", Esibizione live at DOC, 1989
  30. ^ "Toots Thielemans European Quartet: 90 yrs.", Challenge Records (2012)
  31. ^ " Toots Thielemans Quartet - Live at Jazzbaltica", June 13, 1998
  32. ^ Toots Thielemans performs "Imagine," by John Lennon, The Caspian Jazz and Blues Festival, 2002
  33. ^ "Jazz Icon Toots Thielemans: The Kid From Brussels". Theculturetrip.com. 19 December 2012. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  34. ^ Publicatie : 2001-07-19, Numac : 2001015079 - Belgian official journal
  35. ^ "NEA JAZZ MASTERS", The National Endowment for the Arts, 2009
  36. ^ "Toots Thielemans On Piano Jazz". NPR. 30 September 2011. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
  37. ^ "Musician friends celebrate Thielemans' 90 years". Yahoo News. 29 September 2012. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  38. ^ van Kampen, Anouk (12 March 2014). "Toots Thielemans stopt ermee en annuleert alle concerten". NRC Handelsblad. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
  39. ^ Calluy, Kevin; Verstraete, Alexander; Defossez, Frederik (12 March 2014). "Toots Thielemans beëindigt muzikale carrière". De Redactie. Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  40. ^ "Jazz Middelheim ook zonder Toots publiekstrekker". Nieuwsblad. 16 August 2014. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 
  41. ^ a b "Toots Thielemans Saturday buried in Terhulpen", dS De Standard, Belgium, 22 August 2016
  42. ^ The Sound, Amazon.com
  43. ^ Time Out for Toots, Amazon.com
  44. ^ Man Bites Harmonica, Amazon.com
  45. ^ The Soul of Toots Thielemans
  46. ^ The Whistler & His Guitar, Amazon.com
  47. ^ Guitar and Strings...and Things, Amazon.com
  48. ^ Aquarela Do Brasil (w/Elis Regina), Amazon.com
  49. ^ Only Trust Your Heart, Amazon.com
  50. ^ Footprints, Amazon.com
  51. ^ The Brasil Project, Amazon.com
  52. ^ The Brasil Project Vol. II, Amazon.com
  53. ^ Compact Jazz, Amazon.com
  54. ^ Apple Dimple, Amazon.com
  55. ^ Chez Toots, Amazon.com
  56. ^ The Live Takes, Vol.1: Toots Thielemans, Amazon.com
  57. ^ Hard to Say Goodbye, Amazon.com
  58. ^ Toots Thielemans & Kenny Werner, Amazon.com
  59. ^ One More For The Road, Amazon.com
  60. ^ Yesterday and Today, Amazon.com
  61. ^ Live at Le Chapiteau, Amazon.com

External links[edit]