Thielemans has died, aged 94

Toots Thielemans, the Belgian harmonica player who played the theme tune for the 1970s film Midnight Cowboy, has breathed his last.

Christened Jean-Baptiste Frederic Isidore Thielemans, Toots was sought out by such jazz greats as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. He also accompanied Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel.

He was often nominated as the greatest living Belgian.

Toots died early this morning in his sleep, aged 94.


toots thielemans

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  • Played with Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, indeed, but as a guitarist. He also wrote the jazz standard “Bluesette.”

    • Another talent of Toots: whistling! He can be heard whistling on the soundtrack of a film, the music of which is Vladimir Cosma’s. Everything Toots did bore his signature; was so distinctive.

  • Toots’ Valse Bluesette was one of the standards on the free jukebox @ Joe Harbor’s Spotlite – a watering hole and eatery for musicians on B’way, now gone. I played on the “Midnight Cowboy” soundtrack with him and also played live in a band accompanying Ella Fitzgerald where he was part of the rhythm section on guitar.

  • I love what Wayne Shorter told him once after he won -as usual- the category “miscellaneous instrument” in the Downbeat magazine poll: “When you play the harmonica, it doesn’t sound like a miscellaneous instrument.”

    A great musician and such a kind and modest person.
    I saw him a couple of times, the last in a small club… Even at an advanced age, he still played marvelously and visibly enjoyed being “pushed” by the (much younger) members of his group.

    Check his recordings with Bill Evans, with Fred Hersh, with Shirley Horn or his live recording with Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson and NHOP.

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