Harmonica icon decides to quit after 70-year career

March 13, 2014 - 1:13:05 am
BRUSSELS: Belgian icon ‘Toots’ Thielemans is bowing out after a 70-year career as the world’s top harmonica player during which he made music with some of the biggest names in the business.

Jean-Baptiste Frederic Isidore Thielemans, known affectionately as ‘Toots’ to everyone, “no longer feels strong enough to be sure of completing a concert,” his agent Veerle Van de Poel said yesterday.

Born in 1922 in the working class Marolles district of Brussels where his parents ran a cafe, Thielemans started with the accordion and then moved to the guitar, earning a name as a talented musician.

He took up the harmonica as a hobby and then during World War II, as described on his official website, he became “contaminated” with the jazz virus.

The nickname followed, taken from Americans Toots Mondello, a swing jazz saxophonist, and Toots Camarata, a trumpet player, composer and arranger.

Ray Ventura and Django Reinhardt were major inspirations.

According to the website, Thielemans got a big break when he joined Benny Goodman on a European tour in 1950 before moving to the United States where he teamed up with yet another jazz great, Charlie Parker.