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 Fuller Up The Dead Musician Directory 
 
Harry Sweets Edison 
Harry "Sweets" Edison
July 27, 1999
Age 83  
 
 
Prostate Cancer 
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OBITUARY 
        
       
 
 
 NY TIMES
     
          Harry (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 as a 
                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 a 
                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 
                hard swing.  

                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, he 
                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 
                Telarc Records.  

                He is survived by a daughter, Helena, of Columbus. 

 
Launch
   
              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 of 12, 
                    and was soon performing with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra in Cleveland and St. 
                    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 his 
                    playing style. 

                    After the Basie band split up in 1950, Edison found himself in high demand as a 
                    session player for a variety of top-name vocalists. Throughout the decade, he 
                    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 in the 
                    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 years, 
                    including those of Buddy Rich, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and Nelson 
                    Riddle. 

                    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 late in 
                    1998. He had continued to perform, however, bringing his trademark sound to 
                    audiences with a trip to Europe last spring, and was scheduled to play at the 
                    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 tracks.  

      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. 

 
 
 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
All-Music Guide 
  
   
 Born:
Oct. 10, 1915 in Columbus, OH
 
                            Harry "Sweets" Edison gets the most mileage out of a   
                            singlenote, like his former boss Count Basie. Edison, who is 
                            immediately recognizable within a note or two, has long used 
                            repetition and simplicity to his advantage while always swinging. 
                            He played in local bands in Columbus and then in 1933 joined 
                            the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra. After a couple years in St. Louis, 
                            Edison moved to New York where he joined Lucky Millinder 
                            and then in June 1938 Count Basie, remaining with that classic 
                            orchestra until it broke up in 1950. During that period he was 
                            featured on many records, appeared in the 1944 short Jammin' 
                            the Blues and gained his nickname "Sweets" (due to his tone) 
                            from Lester Young. In the 1950's Edison toured with Jazz at the 
                            Philharmonic, settled in Los Angeles and was well-featured 
                            both as a studio musician (most noticeably on Frank Sinatra 
                            records) and on jazz dates. He had several reunions with Count 
                            Basie in the 1960s and by the '70s was often teamed with Eddie 
                            "Lockjaw" Davis; Edison also recorded an excellent duet album 
                            for Pablo with Oscar Peterson. One of the few swing trumpeters  
                            to be influenced by Dizzy Gillespie, Sweets has led sessions  
                            through the years for Pacific Jazz, Verve, Roulette, Riverside,  
                            Vee-Jay, Liberty, Sue, Black & Blue, Pablo, Storyville and Candid 
                            among others. Although his playing faded during the 1980s and '90s, 
                            Edison can still say more with one note than nearly anyone. 
                            -- Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide
  
From Jazz Alley 
(above photo credit)
       Best known for his poetic trumpet and his irresistible personal eloquence, 
       Harry "Sweets" Edison has developed an unforgettable and distinctive classic 
       jazz sound. Sweets’ evolution as an artist goes back to the late thirties and 
       the Lucky Millinder Band with which he played for a short time before 
       joining the great Count Basie Orchestra. During his time with the Orchestra 
       he was first called "Sweets" by the phenomenal Lester "Pres" Young, and 
       soon emerged as a virtuoso. 

       He has been featured by most of the famous big bands and orchestras, 
       such as Buddy Rich, Quincy Jones, Louis Bellson, Henry Mancini, and 
       Nelson Riddle. For several years he was the musical director for the 
       incomparable Josephine Baker with whom he toured internationally. In 
       addition, he was the 1991 recipient of the National Endowment For the Arts 
       Award (N.E.A.), at the Kennedy Center, for ‘Mater Musician". 

       He has composed numerous tunes and is a member of ASCAP. "Sweets" 
       is a master at sensitive lyric phrasing and he has enhanced the vocal 
       artistry of such truly great singers as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah 
       Vaughn, Nat "King" Cole, and Frank Sinatra by creating a tantalizing love 
       affair between the emotional vibrations of his instrument and the singer’s 
       voice. As band leader, he has played many clubs in New York, Los 
       Angeles, Hollywood, and Las Vegas, and has been kept busy by the major 
       television studios for such shows as the Julie Andrews Hour, The Johnny 
       Carson Show, The Odd Couple, The NBC Follies, The Golddiggers, The Bill 
       Cosby Show, The Frank Sinatra Special, The Pearl Baily Show and other 
       spectacular specials. He was also musical director and soloist for the 
       Redd Foxx Show, which toured all over the country. 
       
       

 
 
  
 
 

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