Toots Thielmans and Oscar Castro Nieves

Toots Thielmans & Oscar Castro Nieves @ the Blue Note, NYC

Sunday, November 30th of this year, was an especially auspicious day at the Blue Note in New York City. It marked the final performance by a wonderful group led by Belgian-born octogenarian, Toots Thielmans. Toots performed as if he were fifty years younger, and enthralled the audience with his charm and warmth. Though he normally plays both harmonica and guitar, the guitar at his side lay unused that night. Brazilian guitar master, Oscar Castro Nieves, percussionist extraordinaire, Airto, and piano and synth player, Kenny Werner, helped him put on an unforgettable performance.

Toots Thielmans is not only one of the most respected musicians in jazz; he is also one of my greatest inspirations. A man who performs at such a high level at his advanced age is an inspiration to us all. Toots is adept at all forms of music on both guitar and harmonica. He is also an accomplished whistler, and once whistled for an Old Spice commercial that ran for a number of years. In 1979, I took the Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble to Europe, where we played a small club in Brussels called the Jazz Café. One day, Toots came and sat in with the group. While Tito Puente scat sang Toots?s classic, Bluesette, Toots accompanied him on the harmonica. It was a defining moment for me and one I?ll never forget. Whenever I have the chance to hear him perform, I do so.

I first met Oscar Castro Nieves in a small village in Holland around 1975. To my delight, I have found that not only is he a consummate guitar player, he is also a gear-head like me. Oscar is fascinated with what technology can do for his craft, as well as being an avid Macintosh user. He is also devoted to Toots and his affinity for Brazilian music. Oscar has produced two superb albums called the Brazil Projects, which feature some of the greatest names in Brazilian music playing along with Toots.

Airto and I met in NYC around 1969 shortly after he arrived in America. I often went to hear him play in a little bar name Lost and Found, along with his wife, Flora Purim. After hours, we would go to the Puerto Rican clubs together, but, unfortunately, the uptown musicians did not invite him to sit in with them. Because he was from Brazil, they thought he didn?t understand the clav?. Airto went on to shape the way hand percussion was used in Jazz, and he continues to impress the world with his own band, in which he plays on a combination of drum set and miscellaneous percussion.

Although I have never met Kenny Werner, it is evident that he is an accomplished musician who is comfortable with Brazilian music.

It was an honor for me to be fortunate enough to see Toots?s last performance, and a pleasure to hear him on the harmonica once again.

To see PHOTOS from this event, please CLICK HERE.