Toots Thielemans is a 2009 Jazz Master
Belgium's renowned harmonica player Toots Thielemans has received the highest jazz honour from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the US.22 October 2008
Belgium's renowned harmonica player Toots Thielemans has received the highest jazz honour from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the US.
86-year-old Thielemans is the first European-born musician, harmonica player and baron - a title he received from King Albert II of Belgium in 2001 - to be named an NEA Jazz Master.
At the annual NEA ceremony, Thielemans provided the most moving moment when he played a version on harmonica of What a Wonderful World, which he dedicated to his "musical guru" Louis Armstrong.
Thielemans told the audience that he really got the taste for jazz during the German occupation in the 1940s, when he first listened to recordings of Armstrong with the Mills Brothers.
Good memories from the US
Belgian-born Toots Thielemans emigrated to the United States in 1952. He recalled the warm welcome he received from African-American jazz musicians after he settled there, including singer Dinah Washington.
Thielemans co-operated with a number of famous musicians and singers, including Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones and Bill Evans. One of his best-known tracks is Bluesette. Thielemans also played the soundtrack for the popular Flemish detective series Witse.
"He pulled out his harmonica and stunned his audience"
Pianist Billy Taylor, who presented the award to Thielemans, also had a little story to tell. Taylor let Thielemans sit in with his band at a New York club while he was waiting for his musicians' union card. "I thought he was going to play the guitar, but he pulled out his harmonica and he just killed all of the people who heard him at that time, because nobody was playing jazz harmonica like that," said Taylor, a 1988 Jazz Master.