Another Cause for Celebration: Harry "Sweets" Edison


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While October 10th is rightly honored for the birth of Thelonious Monk, I want to celebrate another jazz musician who shares his birthdate, trumpeter Harry “Sweets" Edison. Edison was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1915, and spent part of his childhood in Kentucky, where an uncle introduced him to music. As a teenager, he played trumpet in local bands in Columbus.

“Sweets" joined the Count Basie Orchestra in 1937 and stayed for 13 years. One can hear the Basie influence in the economy of his playing, in the ability to sound just the right note while playing a melody, make it swing, and give it so much meaning and feel at the same time. It was Lester Young (also in the Basie band) that gave Edison his nickname for just this quality. His sound is immediately recognizable.

After leaving Basie, Edison recorded some albums as a leader and also traveled with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. He also played in the bands of Quincy Jones, Buddy Rich, and Louie Bellson at this time. He moved to the West Coast and did a lot of gigs as a studio musician in Los Angeles, including dates with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. He was the featured trumpet soloist with arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle for most of the 1950s.

During the 1960s and 1970s, “Sweets" continued to do studio work for television shows (for Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Bill Cosby, and Della Reese, among others) and films, including the biopic about Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues (1972). He also worked in Las Vegas and toured extensively in Europe and Japan. He died in 1999.

Among my favorite “Sweets" albums are two he did with Ben Webster, Sweets (1956) and Gee, Baby Ain't I Good to You (1957), and the compilation The Swinger and Mr. Swing (1958). He can also be heard to good advantage—okay, he often steals the spotlight—on the Stan Getz album Jazz Giants '58 (1958) and on the Duke Ellington/Johnny Hodges album Side by Side (1959).

In the video, which is from a 1964 concert in London, “Sweets" plays a lovely rendition of “Willow Weep for Me."

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This story appears courtesy of Riffs on Jazz by John Anderson.
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