I first met Ed in my hometown of Seattle. My twin brother took me to the Opera House to see Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Band and, of course, Ed was on drums. He played with that band for nearly three decades, both in New York and then, when the show moved west, in L.A. Later I found out that he’d also played with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, George Shearing and so many other big names. After the show at the Opera House, I got the chance to sit at the piano and play and sing for Doc and Ed. They seemed somewhat impressed.
So when I moved to California, I decided to audition for a spot on The Tonight Show. Even though I didn’t get the gig, it did give me the chance to reconnect with Ed. This was 1975. He told me that he was scheduled to play at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September and invited me to join him and his band, Energy Force. It was quite an experience, my first opportunity to perform in front of thousands and thousands of people. After that I did some gigs, covering L.A. and San Diego, with Ed’s band. That lasted for about a year. We didn’t reconnect professionally until more than three decades later, during the summer of 2009, when Ed was my drummer at the Playboy Jazz Festival. And though I failed that first audition for The Tonight Show, I went on to make 11 appearances with Johnny Carson, and Ed was always there in the band.
Through the years, we remained close. He was such a wonderful human being, always enthusiastic and incredibly generous with his time. He really believed in me and my career. A very cool cat. I’d sometimes stay at his house, and was always made to feel so welcome by Ed and his wife, Ilene [Woods], who was the voice of Disney’s Cinderella! I spent a lot of time there and would swim in their pool. I remember Ed introducing me to all different kinds of music.
As a drummer, he was in the same league as Gene Krupa, Louie Bellson and Buddy Rich. I remember his drum battle with Buddy Rich on The Tonight Show [in August 1978]. He was a monster player, and he could play anything: rock, pop, jazz, you name it. He only did one album under his own name [1990’s Jazz in the Pocket] but was on hundreds of recordings. And he played with everybody: Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Shirley Scott, John McLaughlin, Oliver Nelson, even Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic-and he was in the Sesame Street Orchestra!
He was an amazing musician, an extremely supportive friend and a truly wonderful spirit.
As told to Christopher Loudon