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Toots Thielemans On Piano Jazz

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Toots Thielemans On Piano Jazz

Studio Sessions

Toots Thielemans On Piano Jazz

Toots Thielemans On Piano Jazz

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Toots Thielemans. Jos Knaepen hide caption

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Jos Knaepen

Set List

  • "Stella by Starlight" (Washington, Young)
  • "Body and Soul" (Green, Heyman, Sour)
  • "Lullaby of Birdland" (Shearing)
  • "Georgia" (Carmichael)
  • "In the Days of Our Love" (McPartland, Lee)
  • "Maybe September" (Evans, Faith, Livingston)
  • "Giant Steps" (Coltrane)
  • "The Nearness of You" (Carmichael, Washington)
  • "Bluesette" (Gimbel, Thielemans)

On this episode of Piano Jazz, harmonica icon Jean "Toots" Thielemans stops by for a session originally broadcast in 2005. To many ears, Thielemans is the first and last name in jazz harmonica. A virtuoso musician by any standard, his chromatic harmonica playing has appeared as a part of countless albums, films and television scores. Here, Thielemans joins host Marian McPartland for a set of standards, including "Stella By Starlight," "Body and Soul" and his own "Bluesette."

Thielemans was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1922. He began playing the accordion at age 3 and, as a child, often performed for the patrons at his parents' cafe. As a teenager, Thielemans took up the harmonica, and later the guitar.

The Thielemans family fled to France following the German occupation of Belgium in WWII, and it was there that Thielemans first heard big-band jazz. After the war, Thielemans returned to Brussels and began playing Django Reinhardt-inspired guitar in local bars with the likes of Edith Piaf and Stephane Grappelli. With the growing popularity of bebop, he returned to the harmonica and began working out the complex patterns he'd heard in the playing of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Thielemans got his big break in 1950 when he joined Benny Goodman's band on its European tour. Two years later, he moved to the U.S. and quickly found work alongside groups such as Charlie Parker's All Stars and the George Shearing Quintet. Thielemans worked with Shearing's group for much of the 1950s, while also releasing albums under his own name.

Thielemans' biggest hit, "Bluesette," was recorded in 1961. A year later, he recorded "Moon River" for the film Breakfast at Tiffany's, which kicked off a string of successful appearances on film soundtracks such as The Wiz, Funny About Love and Midnight Cowboy. Thielemans' harmonica was also heard in the opening theme song to Sesame Street, and his whistling appeared on a widely recognized Old Spice commercial.

A perennial winner of Downbeat's reader polls and other critics' polls, Thielemans is well regarded by the many diverse musicians with whom he's performed and recorded. He's backed vocalists from Ella Fitzgerald to Natalie Cole to Billy Joel, and has performed with instrumentalists from Bill Evans to Jaco Pastorius to Brazilian guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves. Thielemans also had an unwitting influence on rock 'n' roll: While he was playing a regular gig in Hamburg, Germany, in 1959, John Lennon and George Harrison would often stop by and were taken by Thielemans' use of the short-scale Rickenbacker guitar. Lennon bought one, and its jangly sound became a hallmark of The Beatles' early recordings.

Thielemans was made an NEA Jazz Master in 2009, and that same year he performed at the centennial celebration of the birth of Django Reinhardt. Theilemans continues to record and perform regularly.

Originally recorded June 24, 2004. Originally broadcast March 8, 2005.

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