Home » Jazz Musicians » Toots Thielemans

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".

Read more

Tags

Interview
Album Review
Profile
Radio & Podcasts
Read more articles

Photos

Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

90 Years

Challenge Records
2013

buy

What A Wonderful World

Challenge Jazz
2012

buy

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

Hit Collection

Challenge Jazz
2008

buy

Videos

Similar

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and includes upcoming jazz events near you.