Born as Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans,
harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans (1922 – ) was
the subject of the first DVD that I watched in the
“Jazz Masterclass Series from NYU.” With a running
time of two hours and 19 minutes including extras,
it was released in 2007 on the Artists House
label and recorded the previous year.
Noted Jazz historian and author, Gary Giddins (1948 – ),
provided a six-minute introduction of Thielemans, who
performed a 46-minute set on the NYU stage. Joined by
pianist Kenny Werner, Thielemans set included his
famous composition, “Bluesette,” “The Days of Wine
and Roses,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “The Dolphins.”
After a short interview with Giddins, student musicians
on piano, bass, guitar, and drums joined Thielemans
for a short set.
As the foremost virtuoso of the chromatic harmonica
in Jazz, Toots Thielemans’ playing and anecdotal
stories were both well worth hearing. However, his
limited comments following the student set, “Practice,
practice…and listen,” did not provide specific advice
to the students, vis-à-vis observations that might
improve their interpretations of the music. Therefore,
this was more of an “homage” DVD. The 83-minute film
and bonus features gave Thielemans ample time to
reminisce. After the conclusion of the main film, Gary
Giddins provided a 26-minute discussion about
Thielemans, thereby placing his performances within the
greater context of Jazz history.
Thielemans playing was impressive; however, I’ve
never heard Jazz recordings of him during his prime.
Therefore, I can’t really make an accurate assessment,
given my unfamiliarity with the harmonica as a Jazz
instrument. Nevertheless, I certainly learned a lot!
For me, the main value of this DVD was the abundance
of historical information that was replete with priceless
anecdotes. I also liked the fact that Gary Giddins
presided over the affair, and I look forward to watching
other installments in this series.