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Toots Thielemans Pays Tribute to Harold Arlen


Toots Thielemans may not be a household name, but his music has been heard by millions the world over.

He played guitar and harmonica in a folk-jazz style that pre-dated Bob Dylan; his harmonica playing was a highlight in Midnight Cowboy and Sesame Street; and his whistling solo will forever be remembered in a television commercial for "Old Spice" aftershave.

But, after 50 years of making music, whether it was on record, television, stage or screen, Toots would probably want to be best remembered for his love of American jazz.

Jean "Toots" Thielemans was 30 years old when he came to the United States from his native Belgium in 1952. Within a few years he was a member of Charlie Parker's All-Stars. Later, he recorded with Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones and The George Shearing Quartet. His real claim to fame came in 1962 with his jazz standard "Bluesette," featuring his accomplished whistling and guitar playing in unison.

Although he began as a guitarist, Toots Thielemans became most associated with the harmonica. His name is often at the top of Down Beat's readers and critics poll in the category of Miscellaneous Instruments. On Toots' new album One More For The Road, his harmonica is perfectly suited to such Harold Arlen classics as "Over The Rainbow," "That Old Black Magic" and "Stormy Weather."

There aren't many jazz artists who would turn down an appearance on a Harold Arlen tribute album, and fewer still that would turn down a chance to perform with Toots Thielemans. Among the special guests is Oleta Adams who sings up a storm on "Stormy Weather."

As Toots honors Arlen, some of the biggest names in jazz came to honor Toots. A special concert dedicated to the harmonica master, called "The Magic Of Toots: A Celebration of Toots Thielemans," was held before a capacity crowd at Carnegie Hall on March 16. It featured fellow musicians Herbie Hancock, Joe Lovano, Paquito D'Rivera, Ivan Lins, and keyboardist Kenny Werner who also performs on Toot's album, One More For The Road.

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