Sunday, June 9, 2013

Featuring Toots Thielemans: Bluesette

I’ve been playing harmonica for 40 years this year and have never attempted playing a chromatic harp until this week. It is difficult, and it will be a lengthy process for me learn how to manipulate this massive instrument. One reason I’ve never attempted this in the past is the shear price of one – about eight to ten times the cost of a standard diatonic harmonica, but I found a used instrument in good shape for the cost of a sale priced diatonic. Let the good times roll.

Toots Thielemans is a master of the chromatic harmonica and has been heard on countless recordings for seven decades. Lesser known are his abilities as a guitarist and whistler often playing runs and whistling the same melody simultaneously a skill he honed as a member of Charlie Parker’s All Stars and the George Shearing Quintet.

But I digress, you may not recognize his name, but you’ve heard this Belgian musician numerous times. Remember the Old Spice commercials? That’s Toots’ whistling. How about the theme for CTW’s Sesame Street – the harmonica parts are courtesy of Mr. Thielemans. This week we dedicate the blog to the musical output of Toots Thielemans who at 91 years of age is still going strong.

His only international hit under his own name was released in 1962 and “Bluesette” quickly became a jazz standard. ABC-Paramount released the album “The Whistler and His Guitar” the same year. I got a copy of this LP around 1971 and was amazed by his talent – not knowing at the time about his already well-known reputation on the harmonica. I already featured a version of “Bluesette” where Toots and Stevie Wonder play a harmonica duet live. But alas, I’ve never featured the original until now.

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