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Toots Thielemans
Toots thielemans.jpg
Dutch Bigband Contest 2006
Background information
Birth name Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans
Born (1922-04-29)29 April 1922
Brussels, Belgium
Died 22 August 2016 (aged 94)
Brussels, Belgium
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Harmonica, guitar, professional whistling
Years active 1949–2014
Associated acts Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder

Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans (29 April 1922 – 22 August 2016), known as Toots Thielemans, was a Belgian jazz musician. He is well known for his guitar and harmonica playing as well as his whistling. Thielemans is one of the greatest harmonica players of the 20th century.

He worked as a bandleader, as a sideman, and has been on dozens of movie soundtracks. In 2009 he became NEA Jazz Master, the highest honour for a jazz musician in the United States.

He is perhaps best-known to the American public for whistling the melody in commercials for Old Spice cologne.


Thielemans started his career as a guitar player. In 1949 he joined a jam session in Paris with Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Max Roach and others. In 1949 and 1950 he was in European tours with Benny Goodman. He made his first record in Paris with fellow band member, tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. In 1951 he became a band member of the Bobbejaan Schoepen.

He moved to the US in 1952. He was a member of Charlie Parker's All-Stars and worked with Miles Davis and Dinah Washington. He played and recorded with Ella Fitzgerald, Jaco Pastorius, Peggy Lee, The George Shearing Quintet, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, The Happenings, Astrud Gilberto, Shirley Horn, Elis Regina and others.

A jazz standard by Toots Thielemans is "Bluesette" where he used whistling and guitar in unison. First recorded by Toots in 1962, with words added by Norman Gimbel the song became a major worldwide hit. His harmonica playing can also be heard in movies such as Midnight Cowboy, Jean de Florette, Sugarland Express, The Yakuza, Turkish Delight, The Getaway, French Kiss, Dunderklumpen. His music was also in TV programs, including Sesame Street, the Belgian TV series Witse, and the Dutch TV series Baantjer. He made the music for the 1974 Swedish movie Dunderklumpen!. He also voiced the animated character Pellegnillot.

His whistling and harmonica playing can be heard on Old Spice radio and TV commercials that have been made over the years. During the 1980s he performed with bassist and composer/bandleader Jaco Pastorius. In 1983 he was on Billy Joel's album An Innocent Man, and his trademark harmonica can be heard on "Leave a Tender Moment Alone." A year later, he appeared on the Julian Lennon song "Too Late For Goodbyes" from the album Valotte. In 1984, he recorded the final album of Billy Eckstine (I Am A Singer). In 1998 he released a French style album titled "Chez Toots". It included Les Moulins De Mon Coeur (The Mills of my Heart) featuring guest singer Johnny Mathis.

Apart from his popularity as a musician, he was well liked for his modesty and kind demeanor. In 2001 Thielemans was ennobled a baron by King Albert II of Belgium.

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