Every jazz musician attempting to make a profession out of swinging eventually goes to Europe, some staying for extended periods and some settling down for good. The career of Benny Peyton is unique in that seemingly all of his performing activity took place in Europe and points east of there, including a groundbreaking adventure for jazz in Russia. Although drummer and bandleader Peyton returned to the United States in the late 1930s, his subsequent activities took place behind the scenes -- or more accurately behind the stage -- with Peyton working as both a musicians' union delegate and as a rehearsal band drummer for leader Frank Edwards.
It was Will Marion Cook's Southern Syncopated Orchestra that originally brought the drummer to Europe. Peyton grabbed some of players who were left behind when Cook's tour ended, putting together an ensemble that mixed together jazz and ragtime ingredients that in any combination still sounded fresh to European audiences. Peyton became established in England with a group that he called the Jazz Kings, taking on long stints at venues such as the Hammersmith Palais. The great New Orleans soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet was a member of this group as well as a smaller outfit Peyton took to Russia.
Discographers pinpoint the Jazz Kings as the first group to record Bechet, most likely with tears in their eyes as these sides have basically not been heard. As many as eight songs including "High Society" and "Tiger Rag" were reportedly recorded in early 1921 for the British branch of Columbia. Technical difficulties prevented an official release for these tracks, which also featured the fine banjoist Henry Sapiro. Peyton's bands through the '20s and '30s were good places for players who liked to travel, the drummer setting up his kit for extended residencies in France, Belgium, Hungary, and Switzerland, among other countries.