Belgian jazz musician Toots Thielemans died on Monday August 22nd. He was 94 and his manager said he died in his sleep at a hospital in Brussels. Thielemans was considered one of the world’s top harmonica players though he began his musical career as a guitar player.
Born in Brussels in 1922 with the given name Jean-Baptiste Thielemans, he first came into prominence working with Benny Goodman when he toured Europe in 1950. He then collaborated with Sidney Bechet and after a move to the USA Toots went on to work with people like Charlie Parker , Max Roach, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and , back in Europe, Edith Piaf. In the 80s he successfully collaborated with Billy Joel on his ‘An Innocent Man’ long player. Thielemans also worked extensively with Quincy Jones – most famously on his ‘Jook Joint’ projects where Toots’ emotive harmonica can be heard on tunes like ‘At The End Of The Day (Grace)’
Amongst his most famous compositions is the accepted jazz standard ‘Bluesette’. Veteran soul collectors will have fond memories of the 4 Tops’ version that featured on their ‘On Top’ long player.
Thielemans also worked on numerous movie soundtracks including ‘Midnight Cowboy’, ‘Jean de Florette’, ‘The Getaway’, ‘Cinderella Liberty’, ‘The Sugarland Express’ and ‘The Yakuza.’ He also famously worked on music for ‘Sesame Street’.
In 2001 Thielemans was honoured by Belgium’s royal family when King Albert II gave him the honorary title of baron.
Health issues forced Toots to retire from music in 2014. Today Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel tweeted: “We have lost a great musician, a heart-warming personality. All my thoughts are with the family and friends of Toots Thielemans.”