Yesterday, I posted a video of Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs performing BIG BOY here, and the response was so enthusiastic that I thought, “Let’s have another one right now.”
Ninety-five years ago, people were praising Peter — first instrumentally (Herb Wiedoft, Glen Oswald’s Serenaders, the Broadway Dance Orchestra, Paul Specht, Alex Hyde, Red Nichols) — then vocally (Arthur Fields with Sam Lanin) and the 1932 “Rhythmakers” sessions that Philip Larkin thought the highest art.
Here, as a historical benchmark, is a 1924 version by Glen Oswald’s Serenaders (recorded in Oakland, California) — a varied arrangement, full of bounce:
“Peter” remains a mystery – – but we do know that he was “so nice,” as proven by four versions of this secular hymn of praise to his romantic ardor recorded in April and May 1932 by the Rhythmakers, a beyond-our-wildest-dreams group featuring Henry Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, Jack Bland, Al Morgan, Zutty Singleton. If you don’t know the Rhythmakers sessions, you are honor-bound to do some of the most pleasurable research.
But here we are in 2014, with Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at the one-day al fresco jazz party held at Cline Wineries in Napa, California. This wondrous little band — having themselves a time while making sure we do also — is Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. Members of the Cubs have been known to burst into song, but this time Peter’s praises must be imagined or implied. However, Ray and the Cubs are clearly nice and more: no ambiguity there.
The Cubs continue to delight me for the best reasons. They don’t wear brightly-colored polo shirts; they are humorous but not jokey; they play hot and sweet music — honoring everyone from Frank Teschemacher and Eddie Condon to Jimmie Noone and Jeni Le Gon — without putting on the kind of show that more popular “trad” bands get away with. They are what Milt Hinton called GOOD MUSIC, and I celebrate them. Tell the children that such a thing exists, please.
And a digression (what’s a blog for if the CEO can’t digress?) — OH PETER — no comma in the original — was composed by Herb Wiedoft, Gene Rose, and Jesse Stafford. Wiedoft played trumpet and led his own orchestra, where Rose played piano and wrote arrangements; Stafford played trombone and baritone horn. And here is the original sheet music, verse and chorus.
I take a deep breath and point out that “peter” has been slang for “penis” since the mid-nineteenth century. . . . so “When you are by my side / That’s when I’m satisfied,” and “There’s nothing sweeter, Peter, Peter,” in the chorus, has always made me wonder, and the verse, new to me, contains the lines, “I’m missin’ / Your love and kissin’ ? And lots of other things too.” The lyrics do state that Peter is a real person who has been “stepping out,” but if the song were titled OH SAMMY, would it have the same effect? (What of Morton’s 1929 SWEET PETER, by the way?) Perhaps you will propose that I need a more virtuous life, but I wonder if this song was sung with a wink at the audience, even though it’s clearly not a double-entendre blues of the period. Do think on it. And please admire my superb restraint in not titling this post IS YOUR PETER NICE?
Note: any connections between BIG BOY and OH PETER that readers might perceive are their own responsibility.
May your happiness increase!