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Friends mark Toots ‘90 yrs’ Michael cancels tour

NEW YORK, Sept 30, (AP): Jazz harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans quipped that his legs don’t work but his mouth does after he was pushed onstage in a wheelchair to a standing ovation during the first of two Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts this weekend celebrating his 90 years. And once he put his harmonica to his lips, he more than lived up to his words.
Thielemans, who has been in poor health, had only played once this year at a summer jazz festival in his native Belgium and had canceled all his other US dates. JALC programming director Jason Olaine said that up to the last minute, the producers were not sure whether Thielemans would even be able to play at the tribute concerts.

But energized by an enthusiastic audience and his musical friends, Thielemans rose to the occasion. Among those paying tribute were American jazz pianists Herbie Hancock and Kenny Werner, and three Brazilian stars, guitarist-vocalist Dori Caymmi, pianist-vocalist Eliane Elias and guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves  — all of whom appeared on Thielemans’ two “Brasil Project” CDs in the early 1990s.
Thielemans, who turned 90 in April, was the first musician to create full-fledged jazz improvisations on the harmonica. But he’s also made his mark in pop culture  — as the whistler on the Old Spice commercials; playing harmonica on the themes for “Sesame Street” and the film “Midnight Cowboy;” and in performances with Paul Simon and Billy Joel. He was ennobled by Belgium’s king as a baron in 2001 and received the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award in 2009, the highest US jazz honor.

Werner opened last week’s night’s concert at the Rose Theater by playing two ballads  — Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe in Spring” and Bill Evans’ “Very Early,” which were on his 2001 duets album with Thielemans. Then Caymmi and Castro-Neves joined the band to play two Brazilian standards, including “Aquarela do Brasil,” the title track of a 1969 recording Thielemans made with bossa nova singer Elis Regina that made him a hero to Brazilian musicians.
“When I heard Toots Thielemans for the first time, I’d like to tell you I was a baby,” Caymmi said. “I was impressed like I was by Gil Evans, John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery.”
Thielemans made his first appearance of the evening to play Caymmi’s composition “Obsession” with the band; a Gershwin medley of “I Love You Porgy/Summertime” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade,” considered the first bossa nova song, with Werner; and Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” with Elias.

Hancock opened the second half by recalling that he first heard Thielemans when he was 14 years old with the George Shearing Quintet, a group he said greatly influenced him when he first became interested in jazz. He later played with Thielemans on records with Quincy Jones and others.
Hancock dedicated a spontaneously improvised piece  — with lots of classical influences  — to his Belgian friend, and then Thielemans joined him for a playful free-form duet loosely derived from Miles Davis’ “Blue and Green.” Thielemans stayed on stage to play a Sinatra medley (“All the Way/My Way”) duet with Werner and joined with Elias to play her ballad “Moments,” ‘which he played on her first CD for Blue Note Records.

British pop singer George Michael cancelled his Australian tour on Sunday revealing that he was battling “major anxiety” after a severe bout of pneumonia that he says almost killed him.
The 49-year-old said he was heartbroken to have to cancel the Australian leg of his current Symphonica tour, which was postponed last year due to his pneumonia and was due to kick off in Perth on Nov 10.
“Since last year’s illness I have tried in vain to work my way through the trauma that the doctors who saved my life warned me I would experience,” Michael said in a statement from his promoters.

“I was wrong to think I could work my way through the major anxiety that has plagued me since I left Austria last December.
“As soon as I complete these shows here in the UK  I will receive the treatment which is so long overdue.”
Michael said doctors had recommended complete rest and counselling but he had “believed wrongly that making music and getting out there to perform for the audiences... would be therapy enough in itself”.
Though he said his voice had recovered completely, adding that “I truly think that some of my recent performances have been my best ever”, Michael said there had been a heavy psychological toll.
“Unfortunately I seriously underestimated how difficult this year would be,” the singer said.

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