Toots Thielemans virtually introduced the chromatic harmonica as a jazz instrument. In fact, beginning in the mid-'50s, he never had a close competitor. Thielemans simply played the harmonica with the dexterity of a saxophonist and even successfully traded off with the likes of Oscar Peterson.
Thielemans' first instrument was the accordion, which he started when he was three. Although he started playing the harmonica when he was 17, Thielemans' original reputation was made as a guitarist who was influenced by Django Reinhardt. Very much open to bop, Thielemans played in American GI clubs in Europe, visited the U.S. for the first time in 1947, and shared the bandstand with Charlie Parker at the Paris Jazz Festival of 1949. He toured Europe as a guitarist with the Benny Goodman Sextet in 1950, and the following year moved to the U.S.
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