(Sweets) Edison, 83, Trumpeter for Basie Band, Dies
By BEN RATLIFF
Harry (Sweets) Edison, a member of the Count Basie band from
1938 to 1950 and a trumpeter of original, minimalist conviction
who played behind singers like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank
Sinatra, died on Tuesday at his home in Columbus, Ohio. He was 83.
Jazz is full of lunging, piercing talents, and Edison's niche was to act
cool-headed counterweight to that tendency. In the Basie band, he had a
supple, warm sound, regulated by a fanned mute, and he often stayed on
repeated notes which he would bend and ripple; his obbligato playing,
while accompanying a soloist, was sometimes indistinguishable from his
own spotlighted improvisations. As he grew older, the notes became
shorter, his tone became softer, and the listener had to follow him into
kind of secret, hidden world. Often he would end a piece with one
repeated note or riff that gradually faded into silence.
It wasn't the sound of resignation; his music wasn't sad, but funny and
sweet. The saxophonist Lester Young must have been thinking of this
when, sitting in the lobby of New York's Woodside Hotel in the 1930s,
he nicknamed Edison "Sweetie-Pie." That was soon shortened to
Sweets, which would identify him for the rest of his life.
Edison was born in Columbus. His father, a Zuni Indian named Wayne
Edison, left the family when he was 6 months old. Young Harry then lived
with relatives in Kentucky, where an uncle gave him his first trumpet and
taught him scales at the age of 10. After he returned to Columbus to live
with his mother, he played the trumpet in school bands.
Toward the end of high school, he joined Earl Hood's band in Columbus,
and in 1933 he joined the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra in Cleveland, which
moved to St. Louis one year later. In 1937 he finally landed in New
York, playing in Lucky Millinder's trumpet section. At a battle of the
bands at the Armory in Baltimore, according to Count Basie's memoir,
"Good Morning Blues," the Millinder group played in a tight competition
against Basie's band. Not long after, Edison defected to the New
York-based Count Basie camp.
His timing was perfect: the band was at a high point, with the recent
arrival of the arranger Eddie Durham, and the tenor saxophonists Lester
Young and Herschel Evans accumulating notoriety for their nightly
musical battles. It was during this period that the Basie band recorded
dozens of famous pieces -- including "Every Tub," "Swingin' the Blues"
and "Sent for You Yesterday" -- models of directness, economy and
As some classic recordings with Billie Holiday in the late 1930s would
begin to prove (including "The Man I Love"), Edison was particularly
good behind singers, negotiating around their breathing space and
spurring on their sense of rhythm. Nelson Riddle, who used him many
times in the studio, said that Edison was often directly responsible for
leavening the mood on a record. "The humor is in Harry's head," he once
said. "You show him what you want, you delineate the area that he's
going to play in, and he's the one who actually makes the humor of the
comment. You just show him where." Some of Edison's work is found on
Frank Sinatra's mid-1950s albums, including "Swing Easy" and "Songs
for Swingin' Lovers," and the Billie Holiday album "Songs for Distingue
Lovers." Edison also worked with Sarah Vaughan and Nat (King) Cole.
When Basie's band broke up in 1950, Edison moved to Los Angeles
where he found studio work. He traveled with Norman Granz's Jazz at
the Philharmonic tours and was the musical director for Josephine Baker
in the early 1950s. He played with big bands led by Buddy Rich, Quincy
Jones, Louis Bellson and Henry Mancini, and until the end of his life,
made many solo albums for the Pablo, Candid and Concord record
labels, among others.
In 1993 Edison was named an American Jazz Master, and he frequently
toured. To the end, even when his energy failed him, he knew how to use
what he had, which was a sort of rhythmic tension based in the language
of the riff and the repeated single note; he could kick a band into
swinging while playing as lightly as one can. And he was always funny,
with a routine of double-entendres on song titles and hyperbolically lavish
self-introductions at the end of a set. In December he moved back to
Columbus from Los Angeles because of failing health; he had been living
with cancer for 14 years. His last recording is "Live
at the Iridium," on
He is survived by a daughter, Helena, of Columbus.
Jazz Trumpeter Harry 'Sweets' Edison
Dead At 83
Jazz trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, whose distinguishable
soft sound led to a professional career working with a long list of
famous singers and big-band leaders, died Tuesday (July 27)
in Columbus, Ohio after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer. He was 83.
Born in Columbus in 1915, Edison began playing professionally at the age
and was soon performing with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra in Cleveland and
Louis. As a teen, he played with the Lucky Millinder band in New York.
By the time he was 18, he had joined the Count Basie Orchestra, where Basie
saxophonist Lester Young later gave him the nickname "Sweets" to describe
After the Basie band split up in 1950, Edison found himself in high demand
session player for a variety of top-name vocalists. Throughout the decade,
logged time performing with Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine
Baker, Frank Sinatra, and Nat 'King' Cole.
Edison also launched a solo career during this period, an endeavor that
eventually yielded nearly three dozen releases, from Sweets at The Haig
early 1950s to Live
At The Iridium in 1997. In addition to playing with his own
group, he appeared on the rosters of a number of big bands through the
including those of Buddy Rich, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and Nelson
Though he had relocated to Los Angeles for much of his career, Edison's
deteriorating health prompted him to return to his hometown of Columbus
1998. He had continued to perform, however, bringing his trademark sound
audiences with a trip to Europe last spring, and was scheduled to play
Long Beach Jazz Festival in California this coming weekend.
Edison is survived by his daughter, Helena.
-- Stephen Peters, Columbus, Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)
- Harry ``Sweets'' Edison, a jazz trumpeter who
accompanied singers such as Frank Sinatra,
Ella Fitzgerald and Billie
Holiday, died Tuesday. He was 83.
Edison joined the Count Basie Orchestra
in the mid-1930s when he was 18 and
became a featured soloist. Basie saxophonist
Lester Young dubbed him
``Sweets'' because of the pleasing tone
of his horn.
Edison stayed with Basie's big band until
about 1950 before heading off to
perform with his own quintet. He recorded
his own albums, notably ``Sweets
For The Sweet Taste Of Love,'' accompanied
Sinatra as a studio musician and
worked with Benny Carter on movie sound
Over the years he played with most of the
famous big bands, including those
of Buddy Rich, Quincy Jones, Louis Bellson,
Henry Mancini and Nelson Riddle.
Edison taught music seminars at Yale University
in the Duke Ellington
Fellowship Program and he was honored
as a ``master musician'' with a 1991
National Endowment for the Arts Award
at the Kennedy Center.