For me,Toots was a sort of timeless figure. His career goes back a long way and spans almost all genres of jazz and popular music from mid 20th century to second decade of 21st century.
Even when he was much younger ( his early 50’s) he seemed much older to me. However, he always played with fire and impeccable execution.
In the blues world he was not much understood or cared for but, his popularity and great success showed that the world was much bigger than that and there was much for one to learn from.

I learned of Toots from age 17 and actively tried (…and tried and tried) to emulate him from my early 20’s until…. This is how long Toots has been a major focus in my own life.
It was always an immense privilege to have had personal time with Toots, we shared meals and many fine moments after his shows. He loved good food and great laughs; could tell a joke or two and, amazing recountings of his life in Jazz. He was kind and generous with all that.

He used to ‘quote’ the melody from Irving Berlin’s “Old Man River”. I recorded a version of “Old Man River” in 2007 which is on the 2010 release The Italian Job. So, I was thinking of Toots for sure in that arrangement.

When he began to show age and slowing down, it still seemed like he was “old man river”, he just keeps rollin’ along. This continued for decades, seems to me almost 30 years more, as an elder statesman of jazz and music in general.
Did I mention ‘significant’….?

I honestly believed he could never stop….. he was ,and we are “contaminated” , Toots would often  say, by a benign illness ….Music!

 

toots-thielemans-obituary

So, a great era has come to an end. Toots leaves behind only a great cache of money that a choice few will receive.
Aside from that, he leaves behind what I refer to as ” the Children Of Toots”.
Since he never had any real offspring, anyone who attempts to play jazz on chromatic harmonica immediately goes to Toots’ sound for a sense of direction and identity.
Very few actually understand his musical approach or his musical origins.

He never established any kind of scholarship, foundation or charity nor did he ever really declare anyone as a true “protege” of his art. Many have clamored over each other for a mere mention from Toots in order to run with it prematurely. Hence, many illegitimate Children Of Toots. There are a handful of Jazz Harmonica players that have mastered certain aspects of the “Toots” sound and approach but, not one of them has come close to his complete accomplishments or uniqueness as a jazz artist,…. myself included!

 

Mike Turk -August 2016