Toots Thielmans is still with us.
In fact, one of the truly sublime musicians in the entire history of jazz --certainly its greatest harmonica player -- just released a disc of music giving us the joy of being the greatest there is in his 10th decade on earth.
But at Toots' age -- he was 90 in April --it's impossible not to wonder who's in the wings to take his place when Toots leaves us to join the greatest of all jazz bands (my guess for that first jam in heaven: ballads and mid-tempos swingers with Miles Davis.)
Some would say the great 55-year old German harmonica player Hendrik Muerkens. And certainly in a long career he's recorded much beautiful music in stellar company.
But it seems more likely that the NEXT Toots Thielmans for a world in need would be another sublime European musician from one country over -- the French Gregoire Maret, whose self-titled first disc as a leader earlier this year featured appearances by Cassandra Wilson, guitarist Raul Midon and, most tellingly, Toots himself in a kind of moment that couldn't help but be interpreted as "passing the torch" (not that Toots won't be brandishing it, mind you, for as long as he's with us.)
Maret has toured with Pat Metheny and done time in one of Herbie Hancock's bands. In other words, some of the sharpest ears in jazz love his music.
He'll be appearing at 8 p.m. Saturday in the invaluable Art of Jazz series at the Albright-Knox Gallery. Preceding the concert at 7 p.m., series curator Bruce Eaton will discuss what have always been called "Miscellaneous Instruments" in jazz but whose players have so often included some of the most idiocyncratic and exceptional musicians the music has ever had.