Toots Thielmanns: An Appreciation

"I feel best in that little space between a smile and a tear"

I didn't want to let this week's passing of 94-year old jazz legend Toots Thielemans go by without sharing a little tribute and a lot of respect. Jazz guitarist, harmonica virtuoso, and whistler too, this gentle Belgian's musical gifts have been known to millions of kids who may not have heard his name til now - his welcome and familiar harmonica refrain that was the theme to "Sesame Street".

My dad of course is the one who turned me onto Toots. We went to see him in Hartford with dear friend and bandmate Dave Lang maybe back in the mid-80s, in a hotel ballroom. A crack band, effortless and living on the magic they spun into the air. It was an exceptional evening, to say the least.

Recently I saw a concert he did at the ripe old age of 90. No longer able to play guitar, but as spritely and vibrant as ever on the harmonica. It was a wonderful opportunity to enjoy an enormous talent joyfully heading into whatever lay ahead, mixing music and memory and joie de vivre together in his inimitable way for us to enjoy.

Here's one of Toots signature pieces, which happens to be one of my Dad's faves too. Dad turns 80 tomorrow, and we will gather with old musician friends and do that same thing together ourselves. I'm sure we'll play a lively "Bluesette" at some point. This version is 1962 at the height of his powers, guitar and melody whistling simultaneously. Thanks Toots, for all you taught us through your music, and for that happy soundtrack to our childhood. How could we not think of you and easily find that little space between a smile and a tear?

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