Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans (born Brussels, April 29, 1922), known as Toots Thielemans, is a Belgian jazz artist well known for his guitar, harmonica playing, and also for his highly accomplished professional whistling. He is often credited by jazz aficionados and jazz critics as being the greatest jazz harmonica player of the century.
Thielemans started his career as a guitar player. In 1949 he joined a jam session in Paris with Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Max Roach and others. In 1951 he went on tour with Bobbejaan Schoepen.
He moved to the US in 1952 where he was a member of Charlie Parker's All-Stars. He played and recorded with names like Ella Fitzgerald, The George Shearing Quintet, Quincy Jones, Bill Evans, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Astrud Gilberto, Shirley Horn, Elis Regina and others.
A jazz standard by Toots Thielemans is "Bluesette" where he used whistling and guitar in unison. Bluesette became a major 1962 world-wide hit for him and this still much beloved and requested piece has been re-recorded by him and commercially released on records/CDs many times over both in various studio versions and live on-stage performances performed in several different countries. His trademark harmonica playing can also be heard in movie scores such as Breakfast at Tiffany's (where his plaintive "Moon River" solo in the opening scene brilliantly establishes the film's mood of romance noir), Midnight Cowboy, Bagdad Café, French Kiss, and in various TV programs like Sesame Street, the Belgian TV series Witse and the Dutch TV series Baantjer. His professional whistling and harmonica playing can be heard on Old Spice radio and TV commercials that have been made over the years. In 1983 he contributed to Billy Joel's album An Innocent Man, and his trademark harmonica can be heard on "Leave a Tender Moment Alone."
In the 90s Thielemans embarked on theme projects that included world music. In 1998 he released a French flavoured album titled "Chez Toots" that included the Les Moulins De Mon Coeur (The Windmills of My Heart) featuring guest singer Johnny Mathis. This CD continues to sell well.
Apart from his popularity as an accomplished musician, he is well liked for his modesty and kind demeanor. In his native Belgium, he is also popular for describing himself as a Brussels "ket", which means "street kid" in old Brussels slang. He received a joint honorary doctorate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium) and in 2001 Thielemans was ennobled a baron by King Albert II of Belgium. In 2005 he was nominated for the title of De Grootste Belg (The Greatest Belgian). In the Flemish version he ended 20th place, in the Walloon version he ended 44th place.
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