When I started to play the harmonica 27 years ago, Toots was big in Belgium. He did not only play on films and in concerts, but also on many local music shows and local television series. He was also the godfather of the great Jazz Middelheim Festival and played the national anthem before an International Soccer game.
When I attended a workshop by Toots I had the nerve to play him a tune. He said Cool man, let’s start the second part like that and to my disbelief we played this tune together, Toots on guitar and me on the harmonica in front of all these music students. Afterwards he give me a big hug. He was a lot of fun with his Brussels accent – a true ambassador for Belgium.
After his seventies Toots could no longer play the guitar well, due to a stroke, and only from then on he became a full time harmonica player. He constantly reinvented himself and in the last years of his public performances he really got to the essence of his playing. Very bluesy, very sparse and soulful. He made me cry and laugh at almost every concert I heard him.
Amazingly, the longer I play, the more I play the chromatic, and I realise how wonderful Toots was and will ever be as a human, as a musician and as a mentor.
Thank you Toots for your kindness, humour, passion and inspiration!
This appeared in the October 2016 issue of Harmonica World as part of a special tribute to Toots.