Toots Thielemans, Jazz Legend and Harmonica Virtuoso, Dies at 94

By Philip Trapp on Aug 24, 2016 07:22 AM EDT

Harmonica pioneer and jazz legend Toots Thielemans, famous for performing the harmonica solos featured on the beloved Sesame Street theme song, "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?" died on Monday at age 94.

In addition to his ubiquitous Sesame Street harp-blowing, Thielemans lent his smooth harmonica work to "Moon River" on 1962's beloved Breakfast at Tiffany's: Music from the Motion Picture soundtrack. The revered bluesman also provided his musical talent to other popular '60s and '70s movie scores such as Midnight Cowboy and Sugarland Express.

As reported by Billboard, Thielemans enjoyed the company of a bevy of top-shelf performers during his life, first finding mid-century fame in the backing bands of established jazz and swing groups like The Charlie Parker All-Stars and bandleader Benny Goodman's ensemble:

"His first international breakthrough came in 1950 when he joined Benny Goodman on a European concert tour. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1952, joining Charlie Parker's All-Stars. He also played with other jazz greats, including Ella Fitzgerald, and mainstream stars like Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon and Billy Joel."

Born in Belgium, Thielemans took to the harmonica from a young age. According to Pitchfork, he started seriously studying jazz music while Germany occupied Belgium during World War II. Following the war, Thielemans began his harmonica craftwork in earnest.

Thielemans is the latest blues master to pass away this year, following vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, who died on Aug. 15 of emphysema, and composer and bassist Rob Wasserman, who died in June due to undisclosed causes.

NBC News reports on Toots' signature work, "Bluesette":

"Thielemans' biggest hit as the leader of his own band was "Bluesette," written in 1962, on which he also played guitar and whistled the main theme simultaneously. It's now considered a standard of the jazz repertory."

Listen to Thielemans' aforementioned musical calling card, "Bluesette," right here:

We want to hear from you. Were you familiar with Thielemans' catalog? Let us know your favorite Toots song or movie soundtrack contribution in the comments section below.

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TagsToots Thielemans, Sesame Street, Benny Goodman, The Charlie Parker All-Stars, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Bobby Hutcherson, Rob Wasserman

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