Jazz aficionados remember legendary harmonicist Toots Thielemans

The jazz musician, whose work can be heard on the soundtrack for the movie 'Midnight Cowboy' and the 'Sesame Street' theme song, among other work, has died.

Francois Lenoir/Reuters
Belgian musician Toots Thielemans poses for a picture at Laeken Royal Castle in Brussels in 2014.

Jazz musician Toots Thielemans, who played the harmonica, has died. 

Mr. Thielemans’ work appeared on such well-known pieces of music as the opening credits for the children’s program “Sesame Street” and the soundtrack for the movie “Midnight Cowboy.” 

He recorded the song “Bluesette” in 1961 and the song became well-known also. 

According to The New York Times, Quincy Jones called Thielemans “one of the greatest musicians of our time.” 

The Belgian musician’s full name was Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidore Thielemans and he worked with Benny Goodman on a concert tour of Europe in 1950, which Associated Press writer Lorne Cook calls his “international breakthrough.” When he came to America in 1952, he became part of jazz musician Charlie Parker’s All Stars. 

Thielemans was awarded the Jazz Master Award in 2009 by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts. 

According to the AP, the royal family of Belgium said that it is “deeply moved by (the) passing away of Toots Thielemans, one of the greatest jazzmen.” King Albert II had bestowed on Thielemans a title of baron in 2001. 

The Christian Science Monitor writer Amy Duncan noted that Thielemans’ selection of instrument was an unusual one in the jazz genre.

“Every now and then, in the world of jazz, there emerges an instrumentalist who has chosen not to play the usual piano, trumpet, saxophone, drums, bass fiddle, guitar, and so on,” Ms. Duncan wrote. “Toots Thielemans picked the harmonica, of all things.” Yet Thielemans “has done wonders with it,” she wrote at the time.

Peter Keepnews of The New York Times also noted that Thielemans’ harmonica was far from the norm. 

“Thielemans [was] one of the only musicians to have a successful career as a jazz harmonica player,” he wrote. “His distinctive sound on the chromatic harmonica was Mr. Thielemans’s primary claim to fame and, especially, to fortune.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.