29 April: Remembering Toots Thielemans on Birthday

OV Digital Desk
3 Min Read
Toots Thielemans

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Toots Thielemans (29 April 1922 – 22 August 2016), known professionally as Toots Thielemans, was a Belgian jazz musician. He was mostly known for playing the chromatic harmonica, as well as his guitar and whistling skills, and composing.

Life and Career

Thielemans was born in Brussels on 29 April 1922. He began playing music at an early age, using a homemade accordion at age three.

Thielemans began playing the harmonica at the age of three and later learned to play the guitar. During the German occupation of Belgium in World War II, he played in a swing band and performed at clubs around Brussels. In 1949, he moved to the United States to join Benny Goodman’s band, with whom he recorded his first album.

In 1949 he joined a jam session in Paris with Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Max Roach and others. 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.” As his small collection of jazz records grew, the music of Benny Goodman and Lester Young began to impress him the most.

Thielemans went on to collaborate with many jazz legends, including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Quincy Jones. He is also known for his work on film soundtracks, including The Getaway, Midnight Cowboy, and The Color Purple. His most famous composition is the jazz standard “Bluesette,” which he wrote in 1962.

Toots Thielemans passed away on 22 August 2016, at the age of 94, in his home in Belgium.

Award and Legacy

Toots is widely considered an unrivaled harmonica player and a true Jazz Master.  He continued recording with other artists and performing publicly late into his life. After his passing, many collected and showcased his records, ticket stubs and autographs while museums displayed donated items and instruments from his personal collection.

Thielemans received numerous awards throughout his career, including the Belgian National Order of the Crown, the Jazz Middelheim Lifetime Achievement Award, and the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship, which is the highest honor in jazz.

Toots Thielemans is widely regarded as one of the greatest harmonica players in the history of jazz. His unique style and technical mastery of the instrument influenced many musicians who came after him, and his compositions continue to be performed and recorded by jazz artists today. He will always be remembered as a true legend of jazz music.

On 29 April 2022, Google celebrated Toots Thielemans’ 100th birthday with a doodle.

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