Entertainment & Arts

Toots Thielemans: Harmonica player on Sesame Street theme dies at 94

Toots Thielemans Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Thielemans announced his retirement from music in 2014

Belgian jazz musician Toots Thielemans has died at the age of 94, his manager has said.

He was widely regarded as one of the world's top harmonica players and was well known for appearing on the Sesame Street and Midnight Cowboy themes.

The musician's real name was Jean-Baptiste Thielemans but he was known affectionately as Toots.

He died in his sleep at a hospital in Brussels, his manager Veerle Van de Poel told AFP.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel tweeted: We have lost a great musician, a heart-warming personality. All my thoughts are with the family and friends of Toots Thielemans,''

Thielemans was born in April 1922 in the working-class Marolles district of Brussels.

He first came to prominence when he joined Benny Goodman on a European tour in 1950.

Thielemans later moved to the US where he worked with other jazz greats including Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald.

He also collaborated with Peggy Lee, Quincy Jones, Billy Joel and Edith Piaf across his 70-year career.

On the liner notes of one album, Quincy Jones said he believed "without hesitation that Toots is one of the greatest musicians of our time".

'One of the greatest jazzmen'

"On his instrument he ranks with the best that jazz has ever produced. He goes for the heart and makes you cry.''

The musician also performed on many film soundtracks including Jean de Florette, Cinderella Liberty, The Sugarland Express and The Yakuza.

Thielemans was honoured by Belgium's royal family in 2001, when King Albert II gave him the title of baron.

Belgium's royal family said it was "deeply moved by [the] passing away of Toots Thielemans, one of the greatest jazzmen."

The musician announced his retirement from music in 2014, citing health issues.

A jazz festival held in his name was due to take place in September in the town of La Hulpe, southeast of Brussels, where Thielemans lived.

Van de Poel said his funeral will be held in the town on Saturday.

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