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Welcome Home Weary Pilgrim!
"The Grand Master" - Toots Thielemans 4/29/1922 - 8/22/2016
Everyone in the Chromatic community has been hearing that Toots has left some seriously "big shoes to fill." Yeah, but the truth is: they'll NEVER be filled. They're really not suppose to be filled; just looked at, acknowledged, maybe even envied by the lazy and hopefully marveled at by the masses, but never again filled. Attempting to "fill his shoes" is only for pitiful, small minded ankle biting wanabees driven by their own vanity and wanting to render the great Mr. Thielemans as one who was knocked off his throne. Well, that's not going to happen. When death takes the one from the top of a ladder, it shakes off all the imitators below, and takes the ladder as well. What folks don't seem to understand is that all the wanabees that follow are required to start with their own ladder like Toots did.
While I'm sure the Tootster wouldn't have minded being "out-done," if that were to have happened in his lifetime, (cuz he was waaaay to gracious for that kind of pettiness) but we all know that never happened. No one ever thought of being better than he was; small minded players were all too obsessed with being "like" him (and failing miserably, I might add)
Now all the "Toots wannabees" are busy jockying for position as his successor. First of all: Fat chance! Toots was more than a jazz player. Toots was a pure jazz race-car driver who just happened to choose the Chromatic harmonica as his vehicle of choice. (he could have done it playing a saw if he wanted to) That's where most Chromatic players miss the boat. All they can do now is try to be a "Toots knock-off." (remember, a knock off is usually just a cheap imitation of the real thing) Silly Rabit! Toots is for ever!
Toots was arguably the best jazz Chromatic player in history, right? Okay, the most important thing we should want to ask ourselves now is: whom do you suppose Toots Thielemans spent 50 years trying to imitate? I'll wait. . . . . . . . . . .
You see, greatness only comes from originality; everything else is copy-cat, cheap and usually even laughable.
Sadly, we also lost Franz Chmel about the same time Toots left us. I sent a note of condolence to his wife, and she returned one sharing her heart with me. (what a sweetheart!) Do you really think she's expecting someone to fill Franz's shoes? While a spouse surely can be "replaced" with another, anyone who's gone through it will tell you the "original" can never be duplicated. When the original is gone: the original is gone.
2016 was an especially rough year for the Chromatic community; Ron Kalina, Stan Harper, Toots and Franz - all gone. All we can do is what I'm sure they would have wanted: Bid them farewell, never forget them, be thankful for their contributions, move on and Make a Joyful Noise!