The Belgian Pop & Rock Archives ...Muziekcentrum Vlaanderen
  Home | Bands & Artists | T | Toots Thielemans        


Belgium's most renowned musical artist. Although more important for the jazz-world (a topic which isn't covered in the pop-archives), he has made an impact on pop & rock music as well.


53,3 sec. - 104 Kb.
song: Toots Thielemans
Year : 1962
Record co. : MCA

Interview with Toots
2 min, 57 sec, 347 Kb

"Zware Jongens" (OST)
53,3 sec. - 104 Kb.
song: Toots Thielemans
Year : 1984
Record co. : HKM


Toots Thielemans was born in Brussels in 1922. As a child he listened to the music of Django Reinhardt & His Hot Club De France & Charlie Parker. He learned to play accordion, harmonica and electrical guitar (but never has learned to read musical notation).
As he tells himself in an interview with Studio Brussel (you can listen to it here. Note : this was the very first interview broadcasted on this radio station, back in 1983.) he recalls his youth in Brussels:
"I was born in 1922, on the 29th of April, on the Hoogstraat in Brussels. My mother was born in Antwerp, and the Thielemans-family lived at the Zavel (Sablon), the old part of Brussels. At that time I wasn't Toots, I was "Jeanke".
My parents had a pub, a staminee, and each Sunday there was an accordionist. They have told me that when I was in my cradle, I already was imitating the gestures of the musician. One of the clients said "that kid wants to play accordion". My father has bought me a little cardboard accordion, and when I was three I got this little machine. (
plays a little bit, accompanied by the barking of his little dog called Duke Yorkshire Ellington Thielemans).
I'm a self-made man : I don't went to an academy or a school. I didn't have the strongest of health, and musician "that isn't a real job", as it was said then. I once was told that a professor of the academy had heard there was perhaps a new Mozart living on the Hoogstraat. He also came listening, but my parent have told him "no, no, let Jeanke play, he's alright here


In the early '50s Thielemans toured Europe with an all-star band under the leadership of Benny Goodman and shortly thereafter he decided to leave Belgium and try his luck in America (he acquired the American Nationality in 1952). Once in the 'promised land' he was discovered by the pianist George Shearing, who invited him to join his quintet in 1953. After six successful years with Shearing, Thielemans went on to found a couple of swing and bebop quartets under his own name and in 1961 he first recorded his well-known composition 'Bluesette', now a musical "evergreen". He always jokingly refers to this song as "his pension fund".

In addition he set out on a busy career as a freelance musician, working with major stars of jazz like Quincy Jones, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson. Thielemans's harmonica sounds are also featured on the soundtracks of famous movies like 'Midnight Cowboy' (1969), 'The Getaway' (1972), 'Sugarland Express' (1974) and ... the theme tune to the children's show Sesame Street (as well as less famous movies, eg. Zware Jongens with Gaston & Leo). He also ventured out into the pop-world with sessions for the numerous musicians like Billy Joel, Paul Simon ....

In 1981, Toots suffered from a major stroke that left part of his body with little feeling. Today he has pretty much recovered from the stroke and admits that while he may not be able to play as many notes as he used to, he can still "play the good ones".

For several decades now Thielemans's melancholic sounds have made an emotional impact on audiences the world over.

In 1998, Toots releases a new CD called "Chez Toots", recorded in the French capital Paris, "a jazztronomical menu of Toots' recollections of French classical songs from Edith Piaf to Eric Satie". With his friends, like the Belgian guitarist Philip Cathérine, the French accordionist Marcel Azzola, and guest-vocalists like Diana Krall, Chip, Dianne Reeves, Johnny Mathis and Shirley Horn.
In a review of the album by Het Nieuwsblad, it goes "76 he has become, and as a musician he's still going strong. Going for the one sensitive note instead of the former 2 or 3, but the expression, the way that that note is played, is still gaining in intensity. His eyes smile when he swings "La vie en rose", tears flow when he plays "Ne me quittes pas" (of Jacques Brel). "Chez Toots" is an honest, emotional album that will please the wide audience he has gained over the years. This is world music from Belgium, a fusion of jazz, chanson, musette and even classical music. In short, the Ket feels good".

As a reviewer said at the time of "Live Takes volume 1", everybody thinks about Toots : "We have heard many of Thielemans' licks and phrases before. We eagerly approach each of his recordings with a sense of knowing. And yet, his mastery of the instrument and his instinctive knowledge of a tune's depth of meaning continue infinitely to please the listener in much the same way that Lester Young did. Such familiarity breed contentment. In other words, it seems impossible to tire of Thielemans' playing."

In 2001, Toots was again honoured on a number of occasions, after his "bluesette" already had been introduced in the "eregallerij van het Vlaamse lied" by Radio 2, aside Will Tura, Rocco Granata, La Esterella en Bobbejaan Schoepen. Thus, he could open the Belgian presidency of the E.U. during the Chapeau Europe party on the Grand Place in Brussels. And a bit later, as the first Belgian artist in the "popular" genre, he received the title of Baron (together with Will Tura and Salvatore Adamo, who were both knighted). In Holland, he receive a unique Edison for his entire career at the North Sea jazzfestival in The Hague. On the release-front, he came up with CD "Toots Thielemans & Kenny Werner", his first songs on disc with this pianist although they had been cooperating and performign for years. On the live-front, a high point was certainly the live-show at Jazz-Middelheim with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra.

Buy CD's of this artist at proxis

Albums :
- ...
- Footprints (Universal, 1991)
- The Brasil Project (BMG, 1992)
- The Brasil Project vol 2. (BMG, 1993)
- Compact Jazz (Verve, 1993)
- East Coast, West Coast (Private Music, 1994)
- Aquarelo do Brasil (Universal, 1995)
- Chez Toots (Windham Hill, 1998)
- The Live Takes, volume 1 (Quetzal records, 2000)
- "Hard to Say Goodbye", the very best of Toots Thielemans (Universal, 2000)
- Toots Thielemans & Kenny Wener (Universal, 2001)

Websites :
- official site at Netbeat Jazz
- Toots Thielemans 75th Birthday site.
- Toots bio at Windham Hill records
- Toots Thielemans Jazz Profile
- bio at the site Belgian Jazzmen
- The most complete discography of Toots that's on the net, yet there's not a third of what he recorded.
- Toots Thielemans in the All Music Guide

Forum :
- Read the messages/questions about Toots Thielemans
- Add your message, question, cd- or concertreview ... about Toots Thielemans


Toots Thielemans

Deze pagina in het Nederlands


By Genre
At Random
Most Popular


Links & Sources
What's New?

Search for:

Dirk Houbrechts stopped working at The Belgian Pop & Rock Archives (you can read his personal statement here). The website is now entrusted to the Flanders Music Centre ( Contact:

Watch it : This site pays royalties, and was built and maintained in accordance with the terms and conditions negotiated with SABAM, the Belgian society of copyright-holders. Consultation of this site is free, but this exludes downloading, reproducing or public performance of any part of this site. Please do not copy. Link!

Last update to this site : December 2001.

    ^ up