Thielemans, Toots [Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor]
- Marcello Piras
[Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor]
(b Brussels, Belgium, April 29, 1922; d Brussels, Aug 22, 2016). American harmonica player, guitarist, whistler, and composer of Belgian birth. He was given a toy accordion at three, and took up the chromatic harmonica at 17, after watching Larry Adler soundies. His friends introduced him to jazz, let him join their band, and bought him a guitar. He was self-taught, absorbing jazz from swing, bebop, and Django Reinhardt records, and from playing with professionals. After the war, he performed in GI clubs, with singers (Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet) and Belgian bands, mostly playing guitar in Django style. He jammed in Paris with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Sidney Bechet (1949), and played in Benny Goodman’s European tour (1950). In 1952 he immigrated to the United States and joined the George Shearing Quintet (1952–9).
By 1959 he began whistling an octave above the guitar and, as a harmonica master, competent guitarist, and effective whistler, was soon in demand for all sorts of studio work: soloing (with Quincy Jones, Michel Legrand), backing singers (Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Ella Fitzgerald, Elis Regina, Stevie Wonder), and playing on TV shows (...