You probably don't know it, but Toots Thielemans' sound is burned into your brain. It probably happened before you were old enough to even pronounce "chromatic harmonica," the instrument with which he recorded the opening choruses of the Sesame Street theme. While that particular riff is hardly representative of a sixty-year career spent creating some of the most hauntingly beautiful improvisations in jazz, his association with the preeminent children's program is somehow fitting. Despite collaborating with masters such as Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and George Shearing, it's easier to picture the 82-year-old Belgian-born musician as a regular on Sesame Street than on New York's 52nd Street. It's not just his round face and white hair, his gentle charm, and his soft French accent. Nor the childish sobriquet he was tagged with as a young man on the Belgian jazz scene because, he says, his given name, Jean Baptiste, "just didn't swing." Mostly, it's his emotional openness, sensitivity, and guileless nature that seem to make him so well suited for dealing with children. These are also attributes that shape every note he plays. "That's what you call maturity, when all of your experiences, all your joys and pains blend together in the way you blow an instrument or the way you touch a guitar," he says. "And that's the way I feel each time I play."
Toots opens a five-night run at Yoshi's tonight, performing with Brazilian guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves and piano and keyboard wizard Kenny Werner, one of jazz' most adventurous improvisers. A passionate exponent of Brazilian music since the early 1960s, Thielemans will be exploring a mix of tunes by the likes of Milton Nascimento, Djavan, Ivan Lins, Gilberto Gil, and Luiz Bonfá. They're all artists who played on Thielemans' classic Brasil Project CDs, which were produced by Castro-Neves, a gifted guitarist who participated in the birth of bossa nova as a teenager. "Oscar can capture the soul of Brazil in a few guitar chords, all the joy and sadness," Thielemans says. "He plays just the right note, with that ineffable phrasing he learned from João Gilberto, and it's pure beauty distilled into a couple of chords." Yoshis.com Andrew Gilbert
Claude Cahun -- née Lucy Schwob -- and her lifelong partner, writer, artist, and stepsister Marcel Moore -- née Suzanne Malherbe -- were two of the vivants most bons of early-20th-century Paris. Cahun would eventually take André Breton's advice and pen essays, poetry, and more, but it is the elaborately constructed, gender- and identity-fluid photographic self-portraits that she is best known for, and they are in full effect in the Magnes Museum's current exhibit, Acting Out: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore , through July 31. Though a sizable chunk of Cahun's work was lost while the two were imprisoned for their work with the French Resistance, this first-of-its-kind exhibition is comprehensive nonetheless. Magnes.org or 510-549-6950. -- Stefanie Kalem
The Little Island That Could
Picture a rowboat lazily floating in Lake Merritt, its only cargo a young oak tree and a garland of flowers. Now picture that same boat, officially named The Unknown Island, floating there for three months, its only "residents" insects and birds. If that sounds suspiciously like a public art project, you're right. Artist Sonja Meller was evidently inspired by José Saramago's modern fairy tale, The Tale of the Unknown Island, a shortish parable with spiritual import. What will happen to the "little island"? Will it float out the Oakland Estuary? Be pulled out the Golden Gate? End up in Yokohama? Go down and see for yourself. -- Kelly Vance
Allergy-prone East Bayers should steer clear of Hayward's Centennial Hall this weekend, rather than risk getting their dander way up at the Silver Threads and Golden Needles Championship Cat Show. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, cat people can view the judging of more than two hundred felines (representing 37 breeds) competing in nine rings, and see them up close. Peruse vendor booths and even adopt a rescued meow-meow right there on the spot. $4 for kids and seniors, $6 for everyone else, and parking is free. Proceeds from the show benefit local rescue groups. 22292 Foothill Blvd. Fancy-Tools.com/flyers/franciscanSilverGoldenFanciers/april05.html -- Stefanie Kalem
Culture Spy - April 20, 9:52 AM
Culture Spy - April 13, 12:18 PM