January 24, 2019

Artist Feature: Toots Thielemans

Jean-Baptiste Frederic Isidor Baron Thielsmans, also known as Toots Thielemans is known as one of jazz’s most successful harmonica players.  This Belgian and American musician was also known for his guitar, whistling and composing skills.  Jazz historian Ted Gioia noted that one of his most notable contributions was “championing the humble harmonica”. Thielemans was able to open the pathway for the harmonica to be a “legitimate voice in jazz”.


Born in Brussels, Belgium on April 29th, 1922, Jean-Baptiste Thielemans grew up during the German occupation of Belgium.  During this time Thielemans became enthralled by jazz; he taught himself to play a full-size accordion and harmonica by his teen years.


In 1949 Paris Thielemans joined Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Max Roach and others for a jazz jam session.  Inspired by the innovative bebop style of jazz records (recorded by Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie), Thielemans began experimenting with tempo and style.

Toots Thielmans and Joe Marsala

Toots Thielemans and Joe Marsala

After hearing Benny Goodman perform in one of his first trips to the United States, Thielemans was invited to play with the group.  From this point on he would be on a hot streak of playing with jazz greats, recording and playing internationally.

Listen to “Bluesette”, which Toots Thielemans regarded as the song that describes him the most.