Usually I play the drum set with Toots Thielemans and a little percussion, mainly drums to give them a stronger rhythm, since we don't use a bass player. The band usually consists of Kenny Warner on piano, Oscar Castro Neves on guitar, Toots and I.
Playing with Toots Thielemans is actually very easy going music, and at the same time it is a truly important musical experience. The way that you learn from him, it's incredible. He is eighty two years old, and he still plays and travels all over the world. He is a very positive person. I don't mean to say he doesn't have any problems, we all do, but he doesn't show them. When he walks on stage he is a whole different man. He becomes playful and likes to talk, and the people really listen to every word that he says. He says things that really aren't that funny, but they are funny coming from him.
We play some of the most beautiful romantic ballads. You know the ones that everyone remembers, like Charlie Chaplin's "Smile". It's not nostalgic, it's soothing, almost like it is cleaning your spirit. I have worked with him on three different occasions and this last time it was two shows a day for a week at the Blue Note in New York. I have cried several times with him and I saw many people in the audience crying. Even Toots cries! Sometimes while he's playing you can feel that emotional energy coming from him, and then after the show he would say "Oh, I couldn't hold that note, I had to cry. That ballad is so beautiful."
Toots likes to tell stories. One funny thing I just now thought about is that during the show we play some old style Brazilian bossa novas. These songs were written a long time ago in Brazil when it was under a military dictatorship and the "sensors" who worked for the military by policing everybody, stopped a lot of composers from writing. They labeled them as leftists and communists or whatever, because their lyrics talked about the government. They weren't really any of those things, they were musicians and writers talking about their government. Anyway many of them were thrown in jail.
Well Toots talks about this time. It was when he met a bunch of Brazilian artists like Chico Buarque and Gilberto Gil and other composers and singers. Toots would explain to the concert audience about these artists going to jail back then and how most of them did not even know why.
Anyway, so one night Toots says "And you know many of them were put in jail at that time?"
And then I said "Yeah! I was in jail at that time!"
Toots just stopped and everyone was looking at me shocked
"You were in jail?" Toots asked concerned.
"Yeah! I was in jail at that time." I replied
"Oh really! You were in jail too at that time"
"Yes!" Then I added "It was for something else, but I went to jail."
Everyone but Toots got that I was joking and they all laughed but it took Toots a bit. He had started to play the next song and half way through realized what I had said and couldn't play anymore because he was laughing. He ended up having to start the song all over again.
Usually I don't talk about how great it is to play with someone. Not even Miles, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Simon and other really famous people. Which were all great experiences, but Toots because of his emotion and love of life and musical knowledge, he is such a joy to play with. I don't know how to express it in words, he has a beautiful personality, just beautiful. It's like he is so happy to be alive. He had a stroke some time ago and is doing fine now. He lives his life well and is a normal regular guy, who at the same time is Toots Thielemans and I love to play with him.
We already have some more gigs lined up so you can check my tour dates.
This last photo is of Oscar Castro Neves, Maria Schneider & me at the Blue Note