"I don't know why I'm named Sweets. Lester Young gave me that name. I don't know why I deserve the name. No-one knows but him" Harry "Sweets" Edison.
Whether Lester Young gave Harry Edison his moniker, possibly as a recognition of his disposition or the tone that he produced from his trumpet, the name is perfectly apt. Edison was by all accounts a man with a wry personality and a compendiary wit. The unique and identifiable sound that he got from his trumpet was in many ways a reflection of this personality. His playing was dictated by the maxim of, "It's not how many notes you play, it's how many you leave out."
Edison was an alumnus of the Count Basie Orchestra at its peak. He played with the band from 1938 to 1950 and was a disciple of the sound that was to be known as "Basie Economy". Like the leader of the band, he didn't need to play ten notes when one would suffice. Sweets had a very distinct, bluesy sound that other trumpeters would try and ultimately fail to imitate. His signature was a bluesy submachine gun-esque da dee da da da da da dee da. Yet being part of the Basie setup he understood the importance of how a jazz record had to swing. A fine example would be the song "Sweets" performed by the Basie Orchestra in 1949. Check out the interplay between Basie and Edison. (The fine tenor solo is provided by George Auld.)
After Basie broke up the orchestra in 1950 Edison relocated to the west coast and pretty much for the rest of his career became one of the most sought after session trumpeters in music. If you've ever heard a classic Frank Sinatra song from the mid 50's then you will have heard Sweets Edison. He worked with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole and the aforementioned Sinatra to name a few. He knew how to accompany a vocalist in a tasteful, restrained manner, yet his muted sound added an unmistakeable signature to the song. Check out Billie Holiday's "What A Little Moonlight Can Do" as case in point.
I think Miles Davis summed it up perfectly when he said, "Music is about style. Like if I were to play with Frank Sinatra, I would play the way he sings., or do something complementary to the way he sings. But I wouldn't go and play with Frank Sinatra at breakneck speed... So, the way you play behind a singer is like the way Harry "Sweets" Edison did with Frank. When Frank stopped singing, then Harry played. A little before and a little afterwards, but not over him; you never play over a singer. You play between"
It has been such a joy in listening to the solo albums that Sweets made in the late 50's to early 60's. In my view his stripped down, sparse style can be compared in artistic terms with the works of Hemingway or Monet. He collaborated with a lot of big names in jazz and produced some fantastic albums. Whether it was swinging out, playing the blues or laying down a smoky ballad, Sweets could do it with aplomb. Here's Embraceable You from an album that he made with Ben Webster in 1962.