Jazz Standards.com : Jazz Standards : Songs : History : Biographies









Sheik of Araby (1921)

Origin and Chart Information

Trombonist Jack Teagarden is undoubtedly a big reason for the song’s jazz standard status, first with his 1930 recording with cornetist Red Nichols and again in 1939 with his own big band version.

- Chris Tyle

AKAThe Sheik of Araby
Rank 165
Music Ted Snyder
Lyrics Harry B. Smith
Francis Wheeler

“The Sheik” was introduced in late 1921 on a Victor record by the Club Royal Orchestra. The following year, their recording and Ray Miller’s landed in third place in the charts.

  • Club Royal Orchestra (1922, #3)
  • Ray Miller and His Orchestra (1922, #3)
  • Jack Teagarden and His Orchestra (1939, #14)
  • Spike Jones and His City Slickers (1943, #19)
  • Super-Sonics (1953, #22)


Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

Tin Pan Alley was ever vigilant to cash in on popular trends, whether it be automobiles, airplanes, radio or motion pictures. A 1921 film The Sheik, starring Rudolph Valentino, was perfect fodder, and on the heels of its release music publishers Waterson, Berlin and Snyder published “The Sheik of Araby,” sometimes known as just “The Sheik.”

Valentino’s movie appearance solidified his status as a screen icon, especially among women who were known to swoon during his film appearances. The Sheik was based on a 1919 romance novel by English writer Edith Maude Hull and relates the story of an English girl who is kidnapped and seduced by an Arab sheik. The girl eventually falls in love with him and they marry. She discovers in reality that he is a British aristocrat. Valentino starred in a follow-up, The Son of the Sheik, in 1926, prior to his untimely death.


More on Harry B. Smith at JazzBiographies.com

The Club Royal Orchestra was led by saxophonist Clyde Doerr, who had risen to fame through his work with Art Hickman’s Orchestra. The group performed at the Club Royal and substituted for Paul Whiteman at the Palais Royal in New York. Whiteman, who was a friend of Doerr’s from their days working in San Francisco, secured a contract for the saxophonist to record for Victor Records. Their first recording was “The Sheik.” Whiteman resented the record’s success and severed his ties with Doerr, although he continued to record with the Club Royal Orchestra for Victor and under his own name for Columbia. Eventually he severed his ties with the band and became involved with freelance recording and radio work.


More on Francis Wheeler at JazzBiographies.com


More on Ted Snyder at JazzBiographies.com

Popular vocalist/actor Eddie Cantor performed “The Sheik” in a short-lived Broadway show, Make It Snappy. In true Tin Pan Alley fashion publishers came out with a number of offspring, including “She’s My Sheba, I’m Her Sheik” and another success for Cantor, “Lovin’ Sam, the Sheik of Alabam.”

Trombonist Jack Teagarden is undoubtedly a big reason for the song’s jazz standard status, first with his 1930 recording with cornetist Red Nichols and again in 1939 with his own big band version.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Music and Lyrics Analysis

Composer Snyder cleverly wrote a minor, mysterious-sounding verse for the tune, leading into a major chorus. The lyrics of the verse describe the sheik riding over the desert “wild and free” with his “Arab band.” The chorus then tells of the seduction, “into your tent I’ll creep,” and claims that someday they’ll be together to rule the land as husband and wife. Chris Tyle

Musical analysis of “Sheik of Araby”

Original Key Bb
Form  A - B - A - C
Tonality Major throughout
Movement Primarily step-wise; a few skips of a third. The largest interval is an ascending fifth.

Comments     (assumed background)

Although usually played up tempo, the melodic and harmonic rhythm is fairly slow with many sustained pitches and rarely more than one chord change per measure. As such, it is a favorite vehicle for improvisations, especially for the novice.
K. J. McElrath - Musicologist for JazzStandards.com

Check out K. J. McElrath’s book of Jazz Standards Guide Tone Lines at his web site (www.bardicle.com).
Musician's Comments

Are you a published Vocalist or Instrumentalist?

Add a comment and we'll credit you with a link to your site. (more...)

Also on This Page...

Music & Lyrics Analysis
Musician's Comments

Jazz History Notes
Also by the Same Writers...
Reading & Research

CD Recommendations for This Tune
Click on a CD for more details at Amazon.com
Louis Cottrell Trio

Bourbon Street New Orleans The Living Legends
1994 Original Jazz Classics 1836
A delightful, easy-going version of the song features Cottrell playing a subtle, sophisticated clarinet over the light, mid-tempo strumming of guitarist Emmanuel Sayles.

Oscar Peterson

This is Oscar Peterson
2002 RCA Bluebird 63990
Original recording 1952
Pianist Peterson substitutes aggression for elegance on this rousing swinger of a version heavy with bluesy barrel rolls and saloon bombast.

Teddy Wilson Trio

Revisits the Goodman Years
2005 Storyville 8364
Original recording 1980
Wilson treats the listener to a wonderful version of the song that contains all the energy and technical pyrotechnics of a stride piano master having the time of his life.

Billy May

Sorta May (Sorta Dixie)
1996 Creative World 1051
Original recording 1954
This is a spoof of the tune, presented in Dixieland style with Arabic overtones by the big band of the great arranger Billy May. His modernistic and quirky touches keep the music in this CD endlessly listenable.
Jazz History

Cornetist Red Nichols’ session from 1930 had future bandleaders Gene Krupa (drums), Benny Goodman (clarinet), Glenn Miller and Jack Teagarden (trombone) among the personnel. It’s a corker of a record, featuring a sizzling Goodman solo and bluesy sliphorn by Teagarden. Jack’s instructive vocal explains why the typically sappy vocal treatment of the period “is all out-of-date.”

An interesting treatment from 1941 by New Orleans native Sidney Bechet is an early example of overdubbing, where Bechet plays clarinet, soprano and tenor sax, piano, bass and drums.

Trombonist Benny Morton, a fine swing-era soloist who graced the bands of Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, and Teddy Wilson, recorded “The Sheik of Araby” on his own date for Blue Note in 1945, featuring a blistering solo by ex-Ellington tenor saxist Ben Webster and fluid clarinet by another ex-Ellington bandsman, Barney Bigard.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden

B.G. and Big Tea in N.Y.C
Verve 609

Sidney Bechet

The Legendary Sidney Bechet
RCA 6590

Ben Webster

Big Ben
Proper Box (UK) 1037
Written by the Same Composer or Team...
This section shows the jazz standards written by the same writing team. Click on a name to see all of a writer's jazz standards.

Harry B Smith, Ted Snyder and Francis Wheeler

1921165Sheik of Araby
Reading and Research
Additional information on “Sheik of Araby” may be found in:

1 paragraph including the following types of information: film productions, history and performers.

Copyright 2005-2008 - JazzStandards.com - All Rights Reserved      Permission & contact information

Home | Overview | Songs | Biographies | History | Search | Bookstore | About