On Saturday 27 August, I attended the funeral of my friend and mentor, the incomparable Toots Thielemans. I was on tour in France when I heard the news of Toots passing, and I knew I had to go to Belgium to pay my respects.
I drove with Belgian harmonica player, Steved De bruyn, to Toots home town, La Hulpe, a peaceful little town not far from Brussels. People lined the streets and pictures of Toots were displayed on a large video screen.
The Prime Minister and Prince of Belgium attended the service in the local church, which was full to its capacity of about 500 people.
Kenny Werner, Toots’ accompanist, played Bluesette beautifully as the pall bearers entered carrying the coffin, The pastor gave a moving eulogy about the breadth of Toots’ contributions to the world, as a musician and as a kind, generous and loving human being. Several friends spoke, including Kenny Werner who read out a personal message from President Obama.
After the funeral friends gathered at a nearby hotel to reminisce to the sounds of Toots’ Brazil Project albums. Even as I chatted with others, I was constantly distracted by the sheer mastery of Toots’ playing on this masterpiece recording. It brought home to me once again the significance of Toots’ musical legacy.
This appeared in the October 2016 issue of Harmonica World as part of a special tribute to Toots.