JEAN “TOOTS” THIELEMANS turned 90 in 2012 and we celebrated with him.  his Apple two night birthday party was held on the stage of Rose Hall at Jazz At Lincoln Center with celebrants from two of his worlds: jazz and Brasilian music.  missing were the myriad pop stars on whose recordings he “tinkles” (sic) and the Sesame St. denizens for whom he blows their theme.  (the tinkling line is among his favs.)

Toots @ 90 was the opening gambit of J@LC’s Silver Anny, a season-long celebration of 25 years of performances and lectures presented in their multiple venued midtown edifice in the Time-Warner complex on Broadway and West 60th St., Columbus Circle.  for a complete schedule of events go to 

although we had been friends for many years prior, i had the pleasure of representing Toots Thielemans as publicist when i worked with the Peter Levinson Organization. Toots had so much recording work at the time that he was shuttling between his homes on Long Island and Brussels and his pied-á-terre in Manhattan.

we have spent many hours together during and after festivals, concerts, night cubs and recording sessions, as well as socially, such that some writers have taken to calling me the “Toots Thielemans Expert.”  i am hardly that, but it still makes me proud to hear.  he sat with me for lengthy interviews even when he was not feeling up to it for the blog The OctoJAZZarians ©.  
The Belgium Baron –there’s only one othor famous Belgique in history, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot– only plays his distinctive harmonica now, but he’s an accomplished guitarist –accordion was his first instrument– and he whistles.  think the Old Spice Commercials, as well as on his “social security number” –another expression he loves– Bluesette.  and he doesn’t travel; this NYC concert was a rare occasion to see and hear him.  up to curtain time we weren’t even sure he was going to play, but just make an appearance to blow out the candles, as it were.
[Toots Thielemans' first public acclaim was as a guitarist with the second famous George Shearing Quintet the one which also featured Marjorie Hyams, vibes, John Levy, bass, and Denzil Best, drums.]

he teased us as he flitted on stage during the first half for a couple of tunes, then was whisked off –he’s in a wheelchair but quipped that “my legs don’t work but my mouth does.”  as if to emphasize the point he demonstrated;  the “Miscellaneous Instrument” poll-winning NEA Jazz Master Thielemans was on stage for the entire second half.  ”You just try to keep me away,” he remarked later.

the atmosphere backstage and in the Green Room after the concert was of happy, huggimg old friends meeting after long absences: Eliane Elias, Herbie Hancock, who was not huggy due to a cold, Oscar Castro-Neves, Kenny Werner, Toots’ long-time pianist, and a very special visit Stateside from Dorival “Dori” Caymmi, who does not travel here often, if at all.

the sold-out Rose Hall concert was reviewed by my good friend Charles Ganz for Associated Press.  after some consultation on the review Gans and i agreed that a repeat would be gilding the lilly.  you may find it by searching Google “Toots Thielemans Associated Press.”

what the review does not contain are these intimate photos.  backstage and later in the Green Room post concert tete-a-tete i met Toots’ photographer Jos Knaepen who took these photos, used with permission.

To0ts on stage, Rose Hall J@LC w/Kenny Werner (l) & Oscar Castro-Neves             (photos by Jos Knaepen)


Toots (r) w/ l-r: Kenny Werner, Herbie Hancock, Elaine Elias

Toots rehearsing w/Kenny Werner & Herbie Hancock

Toots w/Kenny Werner & Oscar Castro-Neves at Rose Hall, Jazz@Lincoln Center


Rehearsing rhythm section w/Dori Caymmi (r)

Challenge Records has issued a collection of eleven of Thielemans’ never before released live performances called “Toots Thielemans: Celebrating 90 Years.”  all tracks are with a European group of musicians and some have never before been heard in this country.  exceptions to that include Jobim’s Wave and One Note Samba, Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way, and What A Wonderful World, mistakenly, but understandably, credited to Louis Armstrong.  the last lovingly concluded the Rose Hall concert

the box set includes a DVD.

for availability contact: Jordy Freed:

© arnold jay smith (except where otherwise noted)

October 2012



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