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If someone had walked into Almalfi’s Restaurant in Syracuse one evening in 1953 they would have seen the eventually world-famous Toots Thieleman playing harmonica with the Salt City Five.
Toots had moved to the US in 1952 and became a member of Charlie Parker's All-Stars and worked with Miles Davis and Dinah Washington. From 1952 to 1959 he was a member of the George Shearing Quintet, primarily playing guitar but also being featured on harmonica. He has also played and recorded with Ella Fitzgerald, Pat Metheny, Édith Piaf, Peggy Lee, John Williams, Quincy Jones, Oscar Peterson, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel.
A jazz standard by Toots is "Bluesette," where he used whistling and guitar in unison. And who can forget the sound of his harmonica playing the theme in “Midnight Cowboy”?
Now 93, he announced his retirement in March 2014. Why Toots was in Almalfi’s that night we’ll never know but you can hear him there by going to the “Music” section and playing “The Salt City Five at Almalfi’s”.