You might not believe this, but Louis Armstrong (!) is the composer of “Salt Peanuts”, and Glenn Miller (!!) recorded it six years (1939) before Dizzy Gillespie (1945).
The root of “Salt Peanuts” is an exuberant solo break taken by Satchmo near the end of his recording of “I’m A Ding Dong Daddy” from July 21, 1930, initially OKeh 41442. Future Louis Armstrong trombonist Trummy Young quotes Pops’ break during his trombone solo on the September 13, 1934 Earl Hines’ Decca recording of “Copenhagen”. The lick develops into an ensemble phrase when it is part of a 4 bar interjection by the band during the piano solo of Billy Kyle (12+4+16) on the John Kirby Sextet recording of “Sweet Georgia Brown” done for Columbia on May 26, 1939. This device is heard on both takes.
The phrase that is “Salt Peanuts” is fleshed out and fully recognizable for the first time in Eddie Durham’s arrangement of his own composition, “Wham”, recorded by Glenn Miller (!!!) on August 1, 1939, issued on Bluebird from the same session that gave us “In The Mood” (!). I believe you can hear a reference to the “Salt Peanuts” lick in the OKeh remake of the “One O'Clock Jump” by Basie on January 21, 1942. [Please note that, while Eddie Durham is not credited, he co-composed the Count Basie theme song, “One O’Clock Jump”, with Buster Smith.] And 1942 is the year that we can first connect Dizzy Gillespie to the yet-unnamed and unrecorded tune “Salt Peanuts”. Dizzy sets the key phrase to “Salt Peanuts” as a background riff behind Ernest Purce’s baritone sax solo on the July 29, 1942 recording of “Little John Special” by Lucky Millinder for Decca.
“Salt Peanuts”, the composition formally named, finally surfaced on May 17, 1944, when it was recorded for the then-recently launched Apollo label (named for the famed theatre in Harlem and sponsored in part by a now-defunct but long-standing record store, Rainbow Music Shop, that was across West 125th Street from the Apollo) by the Auld-Hawkins-Webster Saxtet. With Coleman Hawkins taking two solos (8 bars on the opening bridge and a full chorus that is the last solo) and a faintly heard shout-out of “salt peanuts”, the famed BeBop novelty surfaced as a knowable and named piece of music.
Neither Kenny Clarke or Dizzy Gillespie – credited as the two composers of the tune on the label of Apollo 755 and on almost all other issues of the song– were present for that session. The drummer is Gordon “Specs” Powell, and the trumpeter – who solos before the three successive tenor solos by Georgie Auld, Ben Webster, and “Bean”(in that order) – is Charlie Shavers!
One week later, on May 24, 1944 – undoubtedly before Apollo 755 with the first “Salt Peanuts” was issued – the key phrase appeared again within another work, “Pickin’ At The Pic”, recorded by the Joe Bushkin Sextet for Commodore. Pianist Bushkin, much more associated with Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra than with BeBop, nevertheless employs – at least tangentially – the then-new idiom by hiring trombonist Bill Harris’ 52nd Street combo for a full record date that featured the recording debut of Zoot Sims! Drummer Specs Powell, who was on the Apollo 755 “Salt Peanuts”, is on this one, too.
The following year (1945), Dizzy Gillespie finally made his own recordings of “Salt Peanuts" for Manor (Trummy Young is on this date as well) and, later, on May 11, 1945, for Guild. This final version of the tune, released as Guild 1003 and performed by Dizzy’s “Quintette” – the legendary gigging band from The Three Deuces – featured Charlie Parker and would become, both historically and musically, the quintessential recording of “Salt Peanuts”. But it was not the first.