BRUSSELS: - Belgian legend “Toots” Thielemans has died after a 70-year career as the world’s most famous harmonica player during which he made music with some of the biggest names in jazz. Jean-Baptiste Frederic Isidore Thielemans, known affectionately as “Toots”, died in his sleep in a Brussels hospital early on Monday, his manager Veerle Van de Poel said. He was 94. “It comes as a bit of a shock and surprise as he was doing very well after suffering a fall last month,” Van de Poel told AFP.
Born in 1922 in the working class Marolles district of Brussels, Thielemans got his big break when he joined Benny Goodman on a European tour in 1950 before moving to the United States where he teamed up with other jazz greats, including Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. He took up the harmonica as a hobby and then during World War II, as described on his official website, he became hooked on jazz. The nickname followed, taken from US musician Toots Mondello, a swing jazz saxophonist, and Toots Camarata, a trumpet player, composer and arranger. “He brought a rather banal instrument intended for campsites to almost sacred heights,” said jazz historian Marc Danval. Gypsy-jazz great Django Reinhardt and Ray Ventura were major inspirations. A chronic asthma condition also influenced his unique style of play. Buoyed by the commercial success of his now standard “Bluesette” in 1962, he played harmonica on the soundtrack for the hit Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight film “Midnight Cowboy” in 1969 and many others.