Toots Thielemans, Jazz Harmonica Player and Guitarist

“Bluesette” at Night of the Proms in Rotterdam, 2009–Video

I learned of Toots Thielemans (April 29, 1922-August 22, 2016)  from Lowell Pickett of the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. Lowell, who also serves as Artistic Director at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, booked Thielemans at both venues.

I never saw him play, but listened to a few recordings on Lowell’s recommendation. I’ve also learned that I’d heard his music before without even knowing it. His harmonica-playing is part of the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack contributes to the opening theme of Sesame Street. 

But Thielemans began his professional musical career as a guitarist. Inspired to pick up the instrument by listening to fellow Belgian Django Reinhardt, he achieved enough proficiency to be a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet and George Shearing Quintet. Increasingly he became known for his work on the chromatic harmonica, a slightly larger harmonica with a slide that allows the artist to play every note in every key on a three-octave scale.

“Airegin” from Images on Spotify