Harry Edison

Harry "Sweets" Edison


This page is maintained by Jeff Helgesen.
Last modified





Additional Resources

Harry "Sweets" Edison (1919-1999) is one of the few players in the history of jazz trumpet who could be instantly identified after only a few notes; along with Bobby Hackett, he was acknowledged as one of the few master trumpet accompanists.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Edison moved to Louisville, Kentucky to live with his uncle, a coal miner and farmer. It was his uncle who first exposed Edison to music, first teaching him to play a pump organ. Edison later found an old cornet in the house and taught himself scales. He cited early exposure to recordings of Louis Armstrong backing up Bessie Smith as important influences on his playing.

When he was eleven Edison almost died from typhoid fever. A year later his mother took him back to Columbus, Ohio, and bought a new horn for Edison, at considerable expense. He soon joined a local band led by Earl Hood. In 1933 he joined the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra and moved with the band to St. Louis, where he worked for two years. Tab Smith, A visiting alto player, heard him, and recommended Edison to Lucky Millinder, who led a top rank band in New York. Edison joined Millinder, whose band included trumpet giant Charlie Shavers, pianist Billy Kyle and the tenor saxophonist Don Byas.

After stints with the Millinder band (Edison was reportedly fired at one point in favor of Dizzy Gillespie, then rehired when Gillespie left to join Teddy Hill's band), Edison was hired in 1937 to replace Bobby Moore in Count Basie's band. It was with Basie's band that Edison reportedly earned the nickname "Sweets" from Lester Young. (Together with the outstanding trumpet soloist Buck Clayton, Edison recorded more than 50 of Basie's records from this period.) It was also during this period that Edison became friends with Billie Holiday, then the bands vocalist. In 1944 Edison and Lester Young had leading roles in Gijon Mili's classic film short 'Jammin' The Blues'. Basie broke the band up in 1950.

In 1952, Edison moved to California, where he established himself as a stalwart studio musician and first call trumpet soloist for the influential arranger Nelson Riddle. He would record with Sinatra for six years, and fill similar roles on recordings Bing Crosby, Billy Daniels, Nat Cole, Margaret Whiting, Jerry Lewis and Ella Fitzgerald, and played on many film soundtracks. (His commercial work and the studio pension system provided him $800 a week for the rest of his life, giving him a great deal of prosperity later in life.)

During this time, Edison also led his own band in Los Angeles, and toured with Norman Granz's all-star Jazz at the Philharmonic unit. During the Fifties he recorded frequently with Shorty Rogers' Giants. He played in the bands led by Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones, Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson, plus frequent guest appearances with the Basie band.

The singer Joe Williams left Basie's band and Basie arranged for him to join Edison's group. This was a successful partnership until Edison decided to return to California during the Sixties for more studio work. For three years he played on "The Hollywood Palace Show", a television programme fronted by Mitchell Ayres. In between a multitude of record dates Edison appeared in television shows with Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Bill Cosby, Glen Campbell, Della Reese and others. Eventually he reformed the quintet and played long engagements in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He visited Europe annually during the Seventies, with drummer Louie Bellson 's band in 1971 and often with the ex-Basie tenor player Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis in later years.

Edison taught music seminars at Yale University and was honoured as a 'master musician' in 1991 with a National Endowment for the Arts Award at the Kennedy Center.

Harry "Sweets" Edison - Biography
Maintained by jeff.helgesen@gmail.com.
You are visitor since 11/30/2002.

Front | Biography | Transcriptions | Discography | Additional Resources

[ Jeff's Home Page ]