Joe Bushkin (November 7, 1916 – November 3, 2004) was a jazz pianist who began by playing trumpet and piano with New York City dance bands. He joined Bunny Berigan‘s band in 1935, then left to join Muggsy Spanier‘s Ragtime Band in 1939. From the late 1930’s through to the late 1940’s he also worked with Eddie Condon on records, radio and TV. After service in WWII he worked with Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman.
He might be best known for co-writing Oh! Look at Me Now, with John DeVries, when he worked in Tommy Dorsey‘s band. That song would become Frank Sinatra‘s first hit. In his 60s Bing Crosby ended Bushkin’s semi-retirement with an offer for them to tour together.
He died in 2004.
Judy Garland called Joe Bushkin, “a musician’s musician,” Frank Sinatra said, “One of the things I missed most about leaving Tommy Dorsey’s band was the piano playing of Joe Bushkin.” Over the course of his illustrious 70 year career, Joe Bushkin played with Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Artie Shaw, Billie Holiday, led the band for Sinatra at the paramount and was Bing Crosby’s musical director.
Here’s a fantastic clip from the early TV program, “The General Electric Theater.” There’s a surprise host. This show features Judy Garland in 1956 with Joe Bushkin on piano. Watch all the way through. Joe Bushkin plays a solo that really show cases his talent. This is a great vintage video clip.
Here’s Jo Stafford singing the Joe Bushkin tune, “Oh Look At Me Now” from her 1963 album, “Getting Sentimental Over Tommy Dorsey.” Joe Bushkin and Jo Stafford were great friends. They met while both performing with the Tommy Dorsey Big Band in the early 40’s. Both performers eventually left the band and enjoyed lengthy, successful solo careers.
Not only a legendary jazz pianist, he was also a talented song writer who co-wrote Sinatra’s first hit, “Oh, Look At Me Now,” and, “Hot Time in the Town of Berlin,” a hit for both Sinatra and Bing Crosby, as well as songs for Della Reese, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jourdan, Nat King Cole, for the Andrews Sisters, and sang and played some of his own compositions in his inimitable style.
One of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, Joe Bushkin died in 2004, just days before his 88th birthday.
Joe Bushkin, who passed away in November 2004, was a legend in his time. A pianist, composer, arranger and vocalist of superb talents and impeccable taste. A professional for over 70 years, he started at age 15 playing gigs with Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan and Eddie Condon.
Among his many achievements, he had the distinction of accompanying Billie Holiday on her first recording, as a leader, writing Frank Sinatra’s first hit song, “Oh! Look At Me Now” when they were with Tommy Dorsey’s band, and serving as Bing Crosby’s last musical director and playing on his last recording session. In between, he also wrote songs for Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, the Andrews Sisters, Louis Jordan and Nat “King” Cole.
After serving in the Army Air Corps in WWII, Bushkin became one of New York City’s most popular nightclub performers, frequently appearing on radio and television in the late 40’s and 50’s. Joe had also enjoyed a prolific recording career, appearing on countless studio sessions and recording dozens of albums as a leader. His series of eight popular “mood albums” with full orchestra for Capital Records in the 1950’s are among the best selling albums ever by a Jazz artist. He also found time to appear as an actor on Broadway in Garson Kanin’s The Rat Race, later reprising his role in the Hollywood movie version.
Joe Bushkin’s exuberant piano style was developed in the pioneer days of American Jazz, and he raised the roof of every club and concert hall around the world that was lucky enough to host one of his selectively rare performances.
Perhaps the best accolade was delivered by Frank Sinatra, who commented that “one of the things I missed most about leaving Tommy Dorsey’s band was the piano playing of Joe Bushkin!”
Here’s a terrific bio taken from the New Yorker Magazine, February 21st, 1983.