Born in Columbus, Ohio, on October 10th, 1915, young Harry faced the challenge of his parents’ separation during his infancy.
Fortunately, his aunt and uncle, who raised him on their Kentucky farm, introduced him to the world of music. Harry’s uncle, a passionate musician who played in local marching bands, sparked Harry’s interest in the cornet.
As he learned to play, Edison discovered the legendary Louis Armstrong through an early Bessie Smith recording. This encounter left a deep impression on Edison and shaped his musical style.
By the age of twelve, Harry returned to Columbus, where he honed his skills by performing with local bands. In 1937, he took a leap of faith and moved to New York, eventually joining the renowned Count Basie Orchestra after a short stint with Lucky Millinder’s band.
The Basie Orchestra, already boasting the talents of Buck Clayton, Herschal Evans, Lester Young, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones, became a powerful platform for Edison’s rise to fame.
It was Lester Young who affectionately dubbed him “Sweetie Pie” for his sweet trumpet sound, a nickname later shortened to “Sweets” and carried with him throughout his life.
With his impressive solos and contributions to the band’s compositions and arrangements, Edison became a shining star in the Basie Orchestra. He remained with the band until its disbandment in 1950, though he would rejoin them at various times until Basie’s death in 1984.
Post-Basie, Harry “Sweets” Edison embarked on a freelance career, occasionally leading his own band and participating in Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic tours. His skills were highly sought after in recording studios, particularly after relocating to the West Coast in the early 1950s.
There, he contributed to albums by famous jazz singers Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan.
One of his most notable collaborations was with Frank Sinatra, lending his muted trumpet to Sinatra’s vocals. Edison’s work on albums like In The Wee Small Hours and Songs for Swingin’ Lovers introduced his unique Harmon mute technique to a wider audience.
Additionally, he recorded with fellow musicians such as Ben Webster, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Buck Clayton, and blues singer Joe Williams.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Edison’s focus shifted towards film and television studio work. His legacy as a swing stylist and his contributions to the Count Basie Orchestra solidified his place in the annals of post-bop jazz history.
Harry “Sweets” Edison passed away on July 27th, 1999, in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, leaving behind an unforgettable imprint on the world of jazz.
Recommended Harry Edison Listening
With Count Basie:
The Original American Decca Recordings (1937-1939)
As a leader/co-leader:
- Pres and Sweets – with Lester Young (1955)
- Jazz Giants ‘58 – featuring Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan (1958)
- Together – with Joe Williams (1961)
- Oscar Peterson and Harry Edison (1974)
- Simply Sweets – with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (1978)
- Just Friends – with John Haley Sims (aka Zoot Sims) (1978)
As a sideman:
- Songs for Swingin’ Lovers – with Frank Sinatra (1956)
- Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (1956)
- Lady Sings The Blues – with Billie Holiday (1956)
- Songs for Distingué Lovers (1957)
- Side by Side – with Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges (1959)
- Back to Back – with Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges (1959)