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Toots Thielemans

Toots Thielemans is an NEA Jazz Master

Jean 'Toots' Thielemans is widely regarded by most people as the most accomplished harmonica player in the world. Of course, that's not all he does and it would be a great injustice to label him as just a good harmonica player. If you are not into Jazz, you may not have heard of his name but you have probably heard his music many times and I suspect you liked it. He is equally good at playing guitar, the accordeon and many other instruments. For instance, you will never hear anyone whistle jazz better than Toots.

Born on 29 April 1922 in Brussels, he quickly got interested in music and was playing the accordeon at age 3. Later he started playing the harmonica and the guitar. He got seriously hooked on jazz in earnest during the German occupation and has been influenced predominantly by Django Reinhardt, another Belgian who invented a particular way of playing the guitar, and the legendary Charlie Parker. Other influences were Toots Mondello and Toots Camarata, resulting in Jean Thielemans being nicknamed 'Toots' early on in his career.

In an interview in 1983 with a Belgian radio station, he said : "My parents had a pub and each Sunday there was an accordionist. They have told me that when I was in my cradle, I already was imitating the gestures of the musician. One of the clients said "that kid wants to play accordion". My father bought me a little cardboard accordion, and when I was three I got this little machine. (plays a little bit, accompanied by the barking of his little dog called Duke Yorkshire Ellington Thielemans)".

He made his big breakthrough when he went on European tour with Benny Goodman in 1950. He moved to America in 1952 (and became a US citizen the same year) where he is extremely well-known, especially among the jazz community. Quincy Jones said this about him in 1995 : "I can say without hesitation that Toots is one of the greatest musicians of our time. On his instrument he ranks with the best that jazz has ever produced. He goes for the heart and makes you cry. We have worked together more times than I can count and he always keeps me coming back for more". Toots hates his favourite instrument, the harmonica, being called a 'miscellaneous instrument'. Indeed, the late Clifford Brown said : "Toots, the way you play the harmonica they should not call it a miscellaneous instrument".

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Radio & Podcasts

Moaning, Whistling, Sighing and Other Jazz Sounds

Read "Moaning, Whistling, Sighing and Other Jazz Sounds" reviewed by Ludovico Granvassu


Jazz--the quintessential open door genre--has a capacity to beautifully integrate all kinds of sources. From music from faraway places to compositions written and instruments used for completely different genres. When it comes to the human voice, jazz has shown an uncanny openness to its endless possibilities finding a musical role for all sorts of non verbal forms of expression. In these two hours we'll explore the jazz side of moaning, sighing, whistling, groaning, humming, growling, grunting, crying, etc. Don't worry... ...

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Album Review

Toots Thielemans European Quartet: 90 Years

Read "90 Years" reviewed by Ian Patterson


NEA Jazz Master and harmonica playing legend Toots Thielemans turned 90 in April 2012, and the milestone has been marked by an exhibition, a street-naming in his honor and a couple of releases. The double-CD Yesterdays and Todays (Dreyfus, 2012) contained 37 previously unreleased recordings spanning a remarkable 65 years, from 1946 to 2011. Then in September, the Lincoln Center paid tribute to Thielemans in a concert where the maestro was joined by pianists Herbie Hancock and Kenny Werner, bassist ...

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Album Review

Toots Thielemans: European Quartet Live

Read "European Quartet Live" reviewed by Raul d'Gama Rose


Miles Davis never liked the use of the term “legend," to describe a living musician, but perhaps an exception ought to be made in the case of Toots Thielemans, who ranks with the great Larry Adler as one of the greatest harmonica players, one for whom music has specially been composed. On ˂em˃Live˂/em˃, together with his European Quartet, however, Thielemans plays a collection of standards and a couple of his own compositions, brought to life on his chromatic harmonica, with ...

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Album Review

Toots Thielemans: European Quartet Live

Read "European Quartet Live" reviewed by Bruce Lindsay


Jean “Toots" Thielemans' musical education started early--he had already started to play the accordion at the age of three. But it was his skill on the harmonica that brought him international fame, and it's that skill which is to the fore on European Quartet Live, featuring a set of well-known tunes taken from concerts in 2006, '07 and '08. It's the second Thielemans live album to be released in 2010 after The Live Takes, Volume 1 (In + Out Records), ...

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Album Review

Toots Thielemans: The Live Takes, Vol. 1

Read "The Live Takes, Vol. 1" reviewed by Dan Bilawsky


While studio recordings can capture a musician's sound, live performances capture the essence of their being and the soul within the sound. When an iconic artist like harmonica giant Toots Thielemans isn't in the studio or creating a prearranged live recording, he's still traveling the globe and bringing his music into the clubs and concert halls of the world. While most of that music never shows up on record, a little bit occasionally seeps into the marketplace. The music on ...

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Album Review

Toots Thielemans: One More For The Road

Read "One More For The Road" reviewed by Ian Patterson


The greatest harmonica player of the 20th Century, Toots Thielemans, is showing no signs of slowing down at 84 years of age, still in demand at jazz festivals and concert venues throughout the world. One More For The Road finds him accompanied by strings and a star lineup of singers who interpret the songbook of Harold Arlen.

Songs like “Come Rain Or Come Shine, “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, “One For My Baby (And One ...

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Album Review

Toots Thielemans: Do Not Leave Me

Read "Do Not Leave Me" reviewed by Greg Thomas


This digitally remastered release of Do Not Leave Me is a must hear for collectors and fans alike. Toots Thielemans' sound and approach to jazz improvisation on harmonica strongly appeal to both heart and mind, and this 1987 recording amply shows why. A supple, driving rhythm section featuring pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Marc Johnson, and drummer Joey Baron gives Thielemans sufficient support to float his mastery at will. He pleads, prods and probes, begs, borrows and steals ...

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Video / DVD

Toots Thielemans and Rob Franken

Toots Thielemans and Rob Franken

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Every great jazz musician has his musical mate—an artist who perfectly complements his or her style and sound. Such jazz pairings that come to mind are Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Pepper Adams and Donald Byrd, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Rouse, Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, Art Farmer and Benny Golson, Clifford Brown and Max Roach, and so on. For Toots Thielemans, it was Rob Franken, the Dutch pianist, Fender Rhodes virtuoso and session musician who appeared on more than ...

Obituary

Toots Thielemans (1922-2016)

Toots Thielemans (1922-2016)

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Toots Thielemans, a highly gifted swing-jazz guitarist, accordionist, harmonicist and whistler who began recording in his native Belgium just after World War II before relocating to the States in 1952 and was the composer of the jazz standard Bluesette, died Aug. 22. He was 94. In many respects, Thielemans brought a new level of respect to the harmonica in jazz circles. For years, the chromatic variety was viewed either as a classical reed instrument in the hands of Larry Adler ...

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Obituary

Toots Thielemans 1922-2016

Toots Thielemans 1922-2016

Source: Rifftides by Doug Ramsey

Toots Thielemans, the man who made the harmonica a well-known jazz instrument died today in Brussels, Belgium, his hometown. He was 94. Thielemans was recently hospitalized after a fall that resulted in a broken arm, but neither his family nor management representatives specified the cause of his death. On an instrument often dismissed as a novelty, Thielemans’ advanced musicianship and individuality made him a respected colleague of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and George Shearing, with all of whom ...

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Interview

Musician friends celebrate Thielemans' 90 years

Musician friends celebrate Thielemans' 90 years

Source: Michael Ricci

NEW YORK — Jazz harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans quipped that his legs don't work but his mouth does after he was pushed onstage in a wheelchair to a standing ovation during the first of two Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts this weekend celebrating his 90 years. And once he put his harmonica to his lips, he more than lived up to his words. Thielemans, who has been in poor health, had only played once this year at a summer jazz ...

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Recording

Toots Thielemans Rarities, "Yesterday & Today" (2-CDs), Set for U.S. Release by Naxos of America & out of the Blue Records

Toots Thielemans Rarities, "Yesterday & Today" (2-CDs), Set for U.S. Release by Naxos of America & out of the Blue Records

Source: Michael Bloom Media Relations

This double CD, Yesterday & Today" (March 27 release) may well contain the best Toots Thielemans you never heard before. It's a stunning collection of both rare and great music, starting with his earliest recording as a soloist and ending with a memorable duet in the new millennium. Producer Cees Schrama, a personal friend of Toots, selected all of these treasures, looking for recordings that follow his long and impressive career and are hard or simply impossible to purchase on ...

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Festival

Toots Thielemans Honored at San Sebastian Jazz Festival

Toots Thielemans Honored at San Sebastian Jazz Festival

Source: San Sebastian Jazz Festival (Jazzaldia)

Since 1994, the San Sebastian Jazz Festival (now Heineken Jazzaldia) has honored an outstanding musician or impresario for his or her contribution to jazz. This year, Toots Thielemans joins previous award winners: Doc Cheatham (1994), Phil Woods (1995), Hank Jones (1996), Steve Lacy (1997), Chick Corea (1998), Max Roach and Clark Terry (1999), Kenny Barron (2000), Ray Brown (2001), Elvin Jones (2002), Bebo Valdés (2003), Shirley Horn and the director Fernando Trueba (2004), Keith Jarrett and Charles Mingus (In Memoriam) ...

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Music Industry

Toots and Grace

Toots and Grace

Source: Rifftides by Doug Ramsey

The first section following the introduction of my 1989 book Jazz Matters is titled “A Common Language." It ends with this: Like every art form, jazz has a fund of devices unique to it and universally employed by those who practice it. Among the resources of the jazz tradition available to the player creating an improvised performance are rhythmic patterns, harmonic structures, material quoted from a variety of sources and “head arrangements" evolved over time without being written. Mutual access ...

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Recording

Toots Thielemans' Harmonica Live with His European Quartet

Toots Thielemans' Harmonica Live with His European Quartet

Source: Gapplegate Music Review by Grego Edwards

Everybody knows that Toots Thielemans IS jazz harmonica. He is the man. He phrases like a horn. Others have followed in his wake but he continues to lead the way. If you listen to the late George Shearing's Quintet in the early 50s, when Toots was the guitarist, you can hear in the few features for the Thielemans harmonica that he had gotten his style pretty much together by then. And he's kept going for the many years that have ...

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Award / Grant

Benson, Thielemans Honored as NEA Jazz Masters

Benson, Thielemans Honored as NEA Jazz Masters

Source: All About Jazz

Guitarist George Benson had a chance to reconnect with his jazz roots when he was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts as one of its 2009 Jazz Masters. But it was another newly minted Jazz Master, Belgian-born Toots Thielemans, who provided the most moving moment at the NEA's annual ceremony to present the nation's highest jazz honor. Thielemans, 86, accompanied by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, played a moving version on harmonica of “What A Wonderful World," ...

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Recording

Toots Thielemans in from the Storm: Music of Jimi Hendrix

Toots Thielemans in from the Storm: Music of Jimi Hendrix

Source: All About Jazz


Matthias Broede
harmonica
The Toots Project
band / ensemble / orchestra
Jens Bunge
harmonica
Joe Carson
vibraphone
Bowmanville
band / ensemble / orchestra
Carlos Pingarilho
guitar, acoustic

Photos

Music

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

90 Years

Challenge Records
2013

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What A Wonderful World

Challenge Jazz
2012

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Yesterday & Today

Out Of The Blue (4)
2012

buy

The Live Takes, Vol. 1

In + Out Records
2010

buy

European Quartet Live

Challenge Records
2010

buy

Videos

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