Jean (Toots) Thielemans, the veteran virtuoso from Belgium who opened Tuesday at Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood, is a man of several talents, as guitarist, whistler, composer and harmonica player.
As the man who brought to the chromatic harmonica the same acceptance in jazz that Larry Adler had earned for it in classical music, Thielemans improvises on it with such clarity of vision, such dexterity and tonal beauty, that one reacts to the message without ever being concerned about the modesty of the medium.
Playing pop and jazz standards--"I Can't Get Started," "Days of Wine and Roses," Thad Jones' "Three and One"--he interspersed his set with sentimental comments about his days with Benny Goodman, George Shearing and, most notably, Jaco Pastorius, to whose "Three Views of a Secret" he brought a warmly personal touch.
He expressed justifiable pride in his sidemen. They are the sensitive, harmonically imaginative pianists Michel Herr--a fellow Brussels native, who played his own award-winning composition "Labyrinthe"--and the Italian bassist Riccardo Del Fra, whom he turned loose on a deeply moving treatment of "I'm A Fool to Want You."
For a finale, as always, Thielemans switched to guitar and offered his whistling-and-guitar-unison version of his most famous composition, "Bluesette." When the audience insisted on more, he introduced a new and delightful original, "Song for My Lady," then picked up the harmonica to close with "Ne Me Quitte Pas."
In the world of jazz, Thielemans remains one of a kind, an artist of unique musical and personal charm. An hour under his spell is a rare and rewarding experience. He closes Sunday.