Belgian-born jazz harmonica maestro Jean-Baptiste ‘Toots’ Thielemans, passed away yesterday (22) at the age of 94. He died in his sleep at a hospital in his home city of Brussels.
Such was his contribution to music that Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was moved to write in a tweet: “We have lost a great musician, a heart-warming personality. All my thoughts are with the family and friends of Toots Thielemans.” The musician had the title of baron bestowed on him by King Albert II of Belgium in 2001.
Thielemans first played accordion, but was inspired to take up harmonica as a teenager after seeing Larry Adler playing the instrument in a movie. “Then I bought a harmonica for fun. I didn’t know anything about jazz. I just listened to things like boogie-woogie.”
He came to wider international prominence in 1950, when he played with Benny Goodman on tour. Thielemans went on to perform on the soundtracks of such films as Jean de Florette and The Sugarland Express, but was perhaps best known for playing the harmonica on the theme song for The Muppet Show.
Toots played a concert in 2012 to mark his 90th birthday, and retired from music only in 2014. His funeral will be held on Saturday (27). The Toots Jazz Festival continues in his name, and will take place from 9-11 September in La Hulpe, south-east of Brussels.