In 1953 Toots moved to New York City where he became a member of Charlie Parker’s All Stars. But it was when he joined the legendary George Shearing Quintet where he played guitar and featured him to play some solos on harmonica. By this time, peoples perception of the harmonica was that of a kids toy and not taken seriously in music circles around the world. In fact, the only harmonica players that were making a dent musically were The Harmonicats and Larry Adler.
By the mid-1950’s Toots was making a name for himself as a session guitarist backing and recording with the likes of Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee. He also befriended bandleader, arranger, and producer Quincy Jones, who continues to play and record for to this day. Quincy adds “I can say without hesitation that Toots is one of the greatest musicians of our time...he goes for the heart and makes your cry.” (From Quincy’s liner notes from Q’s Juke Joint) Both he and Toots would record some great musical moments including the classic tune “Velas,” from Brazilian born composer Ivan Lins, on the multi-Grammy Award winning recording “The Dude.” He was also the featured soloist on Quincy’s soundtrack of “The Getaway” starring Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen.
But it was his signature record “Bluesette” that has become a jazz standard as well as segued him musically as a whistler and also gave him his first hit record.
During the mid-1960’s Toots did well as a leader but got involved in recording music for movies and television. His legendary contribution to the Academy Award Winning score Midnight Cowboy features many of his harmonica solos. He also composed and performed the theme to Sesame Street which has been part of the show for almost 40 years. Another milestone in Toots career is his legendary solos for the Old Spice commercials which he did for over a decade.
What keeps Toots going after all these years is his passion for playing music and the love he receives from many of his enduring fans. After seeing him perform numerous times and seeing fans both young and old, Toots embodies a silent confidence and strength that’s evident in his musical style and how he carries himself. He’s always happy and his music and his long life reflect it. I still believe we have more of Mr. Thielemans to come and another generation of fans to discover this mans real musical genius.
For upcoming show dates or to order his latest disc "Live," please visit him on the web at www.tootsthielemans.com.