This 1997 image of Harry "Sweets" Edison by photographer Paul Slaughter is a study in contrasts. The creases in Edison's eyes are piercing yet seductive. His smile is broad but also slightly pained. What we see here is a swinging legend late in life, relentlessly devoted to his music and the joy it brought fans. Edison was a durable member of Count Basie's band starting in 1938. When Basie folded the orchestra in 1950, Edison became house trumpeter for Norman Granz's Clef label (later Verve) in Los Angeles. Throughout his West Coast career, Edison appeared as soloist on leading jazz and pop vocal records, standing out with his tugging, sighing muted-trumpet lines.
Paul picks up the story, late in Edison's lengthy career:
“An afternoon at the Hive was more than a run-of-the-mill gig. Everyone brought great food to share, and the camaraderie among the audience and performers was wonderful. I began going to Hive performances in 1996. During concert intermissions, I took informal portraits of the jazz musicians who played there. These musicians included James Moody, Herbie Mann, Roger Kellaway, Dick Hyman, Howard Alden, Eddie Daniels, Holly Hoffmann, Cedar Walton, Frank Vignola and Dmitri Matheny.
“In June 1997, Harry “Sweets” Edison performed at the Hive with pianist Gerry Wiggins and bassist Andy Simpkins [all pictured]. Harry was 82 years old at the time and full of energy. He had always been a favorite of mine, with his spare yet bluesy approach, especially on the recordings of Sinatra, Ella and Sarah.
“On this particular afternoon, during intermission, I asked Harry if I could photograph him outside in the natural light. He was happy to do so, and we stepped into a small alcove just outside the concert hall. Harry was quite relaxed, warm and friendly. While I snapped away, we talked about his days playing in the Count Basie Orchestra and in the Hollywood studios.
“To capture this image, I used my Nikon F4 camera and Tri-X film. I slightly overexposed the print, and after scanning it tweaked the digital image a little in Adobe Photoshop to accent Harry, not the alcove’s walls.
“Bob always kept in close contact with the musicians who played at the Hive and let them know that the SFJF was there if they needed help. When Harry became ill soon afterward, the SFJF paid for his care when he moved to Columbus, Ohio, to be with his daughter, Helena. He died there in 1999." [Pictured: Paul Slaughter and Bob Weil]
All photos by Paul Slaughter. ©Paul Slaughter—all rights reserved. All photos used here with the artist's permission.
JazzWax note: Though the Hive closed in 1998, Bob Weil continues to operate the Sante Fe Jazz Foundation and produce jazz concerts in Santa Fe and Albuquerque with Tom Guralnick of the Outpost Performance Space. Weil, Guralnick and Bob Martin (of the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe) also produce the New Mexico Jazz Festival. Go here for more information.