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Joe Peters, half of fabled piano-drummer duo, dies at 92

Jan. 28, 1924 – March 30, 2016

For almost three quarters of a century, the beat went on.

Drummer Joe Peters met piano man Jackie Jocko when both were scarcely out of their teens. They played together for decades, on bandstands ranging from Birdland in New York City to E.B. Green’s at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo. They appeared together on several LPs. They were one of history’s most enduring musical duos.

The partnership ended Wednesday when Peters died in Veterans Administration Medical Center. He died of complications from heart problems, said Kathryn Tripp, a close friend of Jocko. He was 92.

The first many heard that Peters was ill came on Facebook, in a comment Jocko posted that said: “Please keep my longtime partner in music and life, Joe Peters, in your prayers. He is on his journey home.”

The loss was a shock to the countless fans Jocko and Peters have won over the years in the Western New York area and beyond.

Peters had begun suffering heart problems over the last few months. He had kept up his chops, practicing and teaching. Tripp said that as recently as Saturday, a student had called wondering if Peters was planning on giving him his lesson.

It was as if Peters died as he had lived – with grace and a sure sense of timing.

Born in Buffalo, Joseph Anthony Peters was the youngest of seven. He grew up in the big band era, influenced by such powerhouse players as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, and became known for his smoldering versions of “Caravan” and “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

He met Jocko, five years his junior, soon after graduating from Hutchinson Technical High School. It took a few years for the friendship to take hold, because Peters went away to Chicago, where he attended music school.

Peters joined the Marines during World War II and was a Morse code expert. Midway through the war, though, the Marines placed him in a band, and he drummed his way through Hawaii, Singapore and Shanghai.

After the war, Peters met up again with Jocko, whose real name is John Giaccio, and they got their act together. At first they were part of a quartet, but they decided to drop the other two musicians and pursue a career as a duo.

In 1952, they were signed to Mercury Records and had a hit, a swingy “Lover, Come Back to Me.” It landed them on the radio and led to a six-week stint in 1953 at Birdland, the famous jazz club in New York.

When their agent split from Mercury, Jocko and Peters booked themselves, launching a 20-year tour of resort towns around the world. They mingled with celebrities, including Marlene Dietrich, Elvis Presley, Nelson Eddy, Doc Severinsen and Mel Torme. In their free time, Peters indulged in his two passions, golf and bridge.

Back in Buffalo, they attracted crowds during their years at the Cloister, the glittering restaurant on Delaware Avenue, now long gone.

Long stints followed at Jocko’s Supper Club in Cheektowaga and, afterward, at Fanny’s in Amherst. Twenty-two years ago, they began playing at E.B. Green’s at the Hyatt. Jocko still plays there three nights a week.

After Peters’ death, Jocko’s Facebook page overflowed with tributes.

“Heartbroken. A true gentleman, amazing musician and a kind and loving friend,” wrote the actress Mary Kate O’Connell.

“What a wonderful man,” wrote drummer John Anderson. “I want to say how thankful I am for the many conversations we had about drumming.”

One of the most touching sentiments came from Buffalo broadcasting legend Doris Jones, who visited Peters in the hospital.

“His cousin Martha was there also and told me Joe specified he did not want to be cremated because he wants his full body to stay intact so he can drum in heaven,” she wrote.

He is survived by his brother, Sam.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Monday at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, 263 Claremont Ave., Town of Tonawanda.

– Mary Kunz Goldman