Buddy Rich – Harry “Sweets” Edison

Buddy Rich – Harry “Sweets” Edison [Verve B0000572-02]

Buddy and Sweets
                                                                                               Craig “Craigy- G” Fitzpatrick

November 2004


Sweet and Sour

My first experience with Bernard “Buddy” Rich was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Like most Tonight Show fans, I was amazed by his tremendous speed and virility on the trap set. Known for his lighting fast, hard-hitting strokes and unbridled dexterity, he was considered one of the greatest and most entertaining drummers of all time. A colorful and often sarcastic individual, he played with precision, fervor, and rambunctious abandonment. In 1917, Buddy was born to show business parents, and at only eighteen months of age, he performed his first show on Vaudeville. His career spanned over sixty years until his death in 1987.

Buddy Rich was a precocious child who at the age of four made his Broadway debut and by the time he was 11, he was one of the highest paid child entertainers. A very robust individual, his performances were complex and his demands from his fellow musicians brought out the best in them along with a few choice words. He played with Artie Shaw from 1939-1945 and during that period he dethroned his good friend and fellow drummer Gene Krupa. He also played with Tommy Dorsey from 1954-1955 and Harry James off and on from 1953-1966. In the late sixties he started his own bands that at times would change in size and was a frequent and popular guest star on the talk show circuit.

Just as legendary but not as gritty, Harry “Sweets” Edison started playing the trumpet at the age of twelve. He was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1915 and like Buddy grew up during the Swing Era. He received the nickname “Sweets” from Lester Young the “President” of the saxophone during his years with the Count Basie orchestra (1937-1950). Harry was given this moniker because of his “pretty” sound. Initially he was called “Sweetie Pie” but that was shortened to “Sweets”. He has played with some of the greatest big bands in history, and he has one of the most distinctive and recognizable sounds on the trumpet. A true swinger, he enhanced the sounds of singers Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Frank Sinatra. From the 1960’s, throughout the 1980’s, he toured both nationally and internationally. During this period he also recorded in the studio and performed on Hollywood TV shows. “Sweets” has conducted music seminars at Yale University and in 1991 was given an award by the National Endowment for the Arts. After many years of performing he passed away in 1999 at the age of 83. 

In 1955, Buddy and Harry came together for one truly memorable session. Buddy Rich and Harry “Sweets” Edison was originally recorded on Norgran Records but the label was later acquired by Verve. The two had recorded earlier when they were with the JATP but this was their first project where together they are the headliners. It’s swing at its best and is a venue for two of the master craftsman to showcase their talents. 

The other members of the band are Jimmy Rowles on piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, and John Simmons on bass. With this impressive roster of background musicians the talent just doesn’t seem to stop. Jimmy Rowles started playing professionally at the age of 17 and over the years played with Lester Young and Billie Holiday. He’s received numerous Grammy nominations and is recognized as a master jazz pianist. John Simmons on bass picked up valuable experience when he played with Nat King Cole and also played briefly with Duke Ellington. He performed with many great jazz artists during the fifties but had to stop playing in the early sixties because of deteriorating health. A bit of trivia for my New York friends, Sue Simmons co-anchor of WNBC News at Five is his daughter. Barney Kessel, known as “The Innovator,” legitimized the use of the guitar within the jazz spectrum. He was a very versatile musician and was comfortable playing jazz, country, rock, or the blues. Sadly, Barney also passed away just this past April.

The personalities of these two stellar performers could easily replace Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon in the “Odd Couple”. On the opening track written by Edison, “Yellow Rose of Brooklyn” is a tune that features Rich on a four-minute solo that allows the listener to hear his creative and monstrous play on the drums and his musical rendition of all the colors and dynamics of his hometown of Brooklyn. The second track “Easy Does It” slows it down some and features Sweets using the Harmon mute and also highlight the entertaining, smooth and stylistic performance of Kessel on guitar. This is a real finger snapper and allows all of the band members to demonstrate their remarkable talents and will take you back to when it was fashionable to put on a suit and go hear your favorite big band. “Barney’s Bugle,” another original this time written by Rich, features none other than Rich himself. It is a burner and show’s his tremendous speed and power and will really have you moving. Not to be outdone, Sweets comes out blaring on the trumpet. But the highlight is the last three minutes when Rich plays a sensational and rhythmic head shaking drum solo that reaches a crescendo and concludes with all of the musicians firing on all cylinders. Although I enjoyed the entire CD, I am somewhat partial to track number seven; “You’re getting to Be a Habit with Me.” This is a throwback to the classic days of the forties. It is a nice mellow ballad that will have you asking yourself, “What ever happened to wonderful music like this?” 

Buddy Rich grew up in Vaudeville and developed his showman ship skills at an early age so it was only natural for him to put on an excellent show. During his many guest appearances on TV he would sometimes ridicule the guests and engage them in verbal sparring but was rarely challenged because of his black belt in Karate. He will always be known for his dynamic speed, virtuosity on the drums, and caustic humor. Harry “Sweets” Edison on the other hand was quite the opposite. His smooth persona easily allowed him to make a favorable impression wherever he played. Sweets trademark performances were his sweet, smooth and romantic style on trumpet. He popularized the use of the Harmon mute and is instantly recognized on the trumpet, second only to Louis Armstrong. 

Buddy and Harry, an unlikely duo produced an endless treasure that is a drum lovers delight and will take you back to when swing was the thing. It’s not often that the outspoken and the soft-spoken combine to create a tasteful mix but this combination was certainly a recipe for success. Therefore I suggest the next time that you are looking for a CD to add to your musical menu, that you give some thought to Buddy and Harry because this is one ‘Sweets and Sour’ that will have you coming back for more. Highly Recommended!

If you would like to contact Craig his e-mail address is Craigy_g2@stereotimes.com



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