Joe Bushkin Interview by Monk Rowe – 2/15/1999 – Los Angeles, CA

Joe Bushkin Interview by Monk Rowe – 2/15/1999 – Los Angeles, CA


My name is Monk Rowe and we are in Los Angeles
filming for the Hamilton College Jazz Archive. And I’m very, very pleased to have Joe Bushkin
as my guest today, a fellow who’s been around the world as well as to Hamilton College. So welcome. JB: Right. It’s good to see you, Monk. MR: You know I look at your list of people
you’ve played with, and I almost have to look at who you haven’t played with as opposed
– JB: Yeah I think that makes more sense. When you talk about who I haven’t played with
as a start, back in 1932 I was about 15-1/2 and playing with a band at the Roseland Ballroom,
Frank LaMarr and his stock arrangement orchestra which drove me nuts. And that started it all off. Actually I was playing trumpet and then I
substituted for a piano player and then just stayed at the piano, as opposed to playing
second trumpet under an out of tune trumpet lead all night. And it doesn’t take long for one to get tuned
into their survival instinct. It starts with day one as we know. MR: Speaking of out of tune, you must have
encountered a few pianos along the way that were fairly out of tune. JB: Oh absolutely. As a matter of fact I became a roller coaster
expert with the Berigan band and then Tommy Dorsey band I was with, whenever we played
all the ballrooms at the various amusement parks doing one nighters, if a piano was a
half a tone off at least I could transpose a little bit. But sometimes it was a quarter of a tone off
and then I must say Tommy was most pleasant about it. He says “take off Joe, the roller coaster’s
waiting for you.” And I became a champ at that. But let’s see where were we? MR: Well how did you learn your piano skills? Were you mostly self taught? JB: No I studied, when I was about nine or
ten I studied with a girl who lived up on the third floor of an apartment building we
lived in, and I enjoyed the 45 minutes or an hour once a week and learned to play the
“Minuet in G” like all the kids, and the scales or whatever. And then there was a chap named Cosiff, who
was the owner of the building, and back in those days, it will probably sound very strange
to you but I might as well continue, where the old guy would come around every week and
collect his rent. It was the only way he was going to be sure
he got it every week. And the old guy wasn’t feeling well or whatever,
and his son came around and it turned out that his son had studied with Joseph Levine
over in Paris or wherever, yeah I guess it was Paris, and one of the great concert pianists. And I was in the other room playing the “Minuet
in G” and he was curious about me and he had me go in the kitchen, and he’d hit a note
and I’d tell him what note it was. He’d hit two notes and I had perfect pitch. MR: You had perfect pitch, huh? JB: Yeah, which I wasn’t aware of. And like all kids of that particular age,
I couldn’t resist scooting around on a bicycle and getting both arms put in a cast and had
started the trumpet playing of course, I switched over. But anyway, that was a start, and I’ve got
to tell you, when I think of what’s going on in our world in the 90’s economically,
we were happy to get three dollars a night for playing a Polish paperhanger ball or something. A wallpaper hanger. MR: How did your folks feel about your progression
into music and when it looked like it was going to be a career? JB: Oh they were wonderful with me and my
dad was, we lived in the most patriarch society you could possibly imagine which would take
a great imagination to come up with, back in those days. I was 82 years old this last year so I’m talking
about 70 years ago, and my dad was very, very musically inclined and he just loved the idea
of me doing music. My brother studied violin but he wound up
playing in the NYU Symphony Orchestra or whatever when he was going to college. He was not lucky I’d say to be born with a
natural talent. MR: You mentioned playing stock arrangements
with that first band. These were things that just could be purchased
by any band? JB: Right. MR: They weren’t specifically written for
that particular group. JB: Right exactly. They were always written for I believe five
brass and four saxophones and a rhythm section. And they were the tunes that were coming out
on Broadway or film or whatever. In any case, nowadays the kids get a terrific
break because actually if a guy has a band he’s in the position to buy Billy May’s arrangements
and Billy Byers’ and all of the best, Sy Oliver and, I mean –
MR: The great writers. JB: All of the great arrangements that they
did are available. And if you are with the right band you’ll
be playing those kind of arrangements. MR: And you played mostly for dancing at these
ballrooms? JB: Yeah it was back in the 30’s, the early
30’s, and into the swing era. And I played intermission piano at Kelly’s
Stables when the Coleman Hawkins Quartet was there, and I was at the Embers. I could go on endlessly, where – we opened
the Embers in New York which became the hot jazz venue and we were there for nine weeks
and believe it or not I was there with Milt Hinton, Buck Clayton, Jo Jones on drums, that
was the quartet, and Art Tatum was there appearing. MR: Did you guys play one set? JB: Yeah, we just spelled one another, and
it was hard work actually because you played four or five shows a night from 9:30 to 4
in the morning. And as many times, Art would call me and ask
me to do his first set for him because he wasn’t feeling up to it. And I’d be happy to do it. You know, when you’re a young cat and you’ve
got a lot of energy, and also, a great love for what I was doing, which was the biggest
break of all. The percentage of people in the world who
go to work everyday and really love what they do, is very, very small. I can’t even think of it mathematically, it’s
way down there. MR: You made a statement I think about Art
Tatum, that he was a surgeon, what he did? JB: Yeah. I guess so, yeah. I was in a different racket. I was a lawyer and he was a surgeon. I couldn’t – whereas Johnny Smith plays with
us a few weeks at a time, he’s on one of the CD’s that you have here on “The Road to Oslo”
with Bing Crosby, the Alliance Jazz, and Johnny Smith, Jake Hanna and Milt Hinton and myself,
we were with Bing on tour. I loved being with them. We were never presented more beautifully and
he just was a jazz aficionado. And I’ve done a couple of things for the Sinatra,
at Hofstra University, you know that’s all been going on. And I was with Tommy Dorsey’s band when Frank
was a boy singer for about two years. And I loved Frank. He was saying one of the things he missed
with the Dorsey band was my piano playing, and that was a great compliment. And then Frank recorded some material for
me. In fact he got “Hot Time in the Town of Berlin”
over to Bing when there was a musician’s strike on for about two years. I don’t know, you might not recall that. MR: That’s right. The musician’s union wouldn’t allow any recording. JB: Right. In ’43 or whatever, ’42, ’43. I was a band leader in Douglas, Arizona in
the Air Corps and I was up in L.A. picking up some dance band equipment which the government,
it wasn’t G.I. equipment obviously. And I picked up some mutes and derbies and
some dance band stands for my jazz band, amongst the 45 or 50 musicians we had in the military
band. It was the 410th Air Corps Band, and it was
in Douglas, Arizona, and they built a brand new air field for P-38 pilots who trained
A-20’s, which was a two-seater, with the exact confirmation of a P-38. And when you think about it they were graduating
maybe five or six thousand cadets every six, seven weeks. MR: Wow. And these were young fellows, right? JB: All young fellows, yeah. MR: Right out of high school. JB: Right and all being sent out – there sure
was a world war on at the time. I don’t even realize that there were some
other wars that went on, Korea and Vietnam. Guys talk about being in the Army, later on,
I wonder. Somehow or other when you’re not in the service
you don’t think about it. Same old story. MR: You got sent overseas yourself, right? JB: Yeah, well I was over on the Marianas
and when I was at Douglas I ran into Dave Rose, who was the musician director for a
new show which was going to be called “Winged Victory,” that Morris Hart wrote, and Swifty
Lazar the agent, he was a captain in the show in the Air Corps. And I was delighted to be an assistant conductor
to Dave and I’d conducted this big 80 piece orchestra or whatever, a Wednesday matinee
and a Saturday. It was easy because Dave had already straightened
it out. And I figured out very early in life in order
to get the attention of that many men, slow it down occasionally and go a little faster
occasionally, otherwise they’re not going to even look up. Same old story. MR: Good point. That’s a very good point. JB: Oh absolutely. MR: You have to let them know that you’re
up there. JB: Oh for sure. MR: And amongst the technical musicians, it’s
a far cry from the jazz field you know. We just ran into Bill Berry down in the lobby
of the hotel, I got such a kick out of seeing Bill. And he’s talking about Robert Blake being
a jazz fan. I met him when I was in town, he said he’s
sorry he missed coming in to hear Ross Tompkins, at a place called Chadney’s, or whatever. There are so few jazz saloons that make any
sense these days, it’s a lost art in its own way. JB: Overseas you ran into a couple of fellows. MR: Well we wound up on Iwo Jima and then
Saipan-Tinian and then the war was still on and I was in Guam and they ran out of cots
for the boys and we were sleeping on the ground in a tent on a G.I. blanket. And I was walking down the road and I ran
into Joe Anderson, who was involved with Hamilton College. But at the time he was a Captain in the Marine
Corps and he was a Provost Marshal of the Island. He was in charge of all of the native so-called
police and had nothing to do with M.P.’s or military police. It had to do with the police in charge of
the natives, which couldn’t have been that easy, they were all in a panic. They were dropping bombs on these guys. And I wound up staying with Joe. He had some of his native police build a tent
with some wooden sides and a good canvas top and they built some two by fours, made beds
out of them by using the inner tubes of B-29’s that were no longer useful, and cutting them
into about two inch strips and nailing it down, like crisscross on the two by fours
with Coca Cola caps so they don’t split, and it was the most comfortable bed I ever slept
in in my life. MR: Talk about improvising, ey? JB: Oh yeah, I mean they were like jazz musicians. And that was a good rhythm section that built
those beds, I’ll tell you that. But anyway I was delighted to see Joe and
we of course talked about Ernie Anderson, who was way back, way before Norman Granz
from Jazz at the Philharmonic, he did all the NBC Eddie Condon T.V. shows when it was
a great idea for a program but it needed people to own T.V. sets to see it, which is not the
way it was. But he always had Hot Lips Page, Louis Armstrong,
Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko and George Wettling and myself, and it was some wonderful, wonderful
music. And one of the things that makes you realize
that there’s a big difference in playing a program live and recording it, which companies
never did often enough, and when you get in the studio that’s a whole other sound. MR: Well Ernie was very passionate about the
music, wasn’t he? JB: Oh he was just terrific. Oh we hung out many, many, many years later
and over the years and we were getting a theater in England together. I mean he turned out to be John Houston’s
right hand man, so I got to know John and hang out with Ernie and John at his castle
in Ireland. And anyway, so I stayed with Joe. They had an extra bed and there was a Marine
Major about my size and I would casually put his Marine Major uniform on and go and have
food at the Marine mess hall. MR: Just casually. JB: Instead of the kind of food we were getting,
and they had the best food. In any case, there was a two-star General
Marine who knew what I did, knew who I was, and didn’t make any scene about it. He said it’s great having you to dinner or
something you know. And I played a couple of little cocktail parties
for him in a Quonset hut and he was delighted. But anyway that goes back a ways. And I love Joe and in fact I played at Hamilton
for Joe’s going away party I believe it was. MR: That’s true. JB: He was retiring and, well you can explain
what Joe did at the college. He was a fundraiser I believe. MR: Yes, and he very much – Communications
and Development. He’s a very important figure in the history
of the college actually. JB: Yeah well I’m sure he had a full professorship
going at least. MR: Did you ever have any inkling that you
were NOT going to make a career in music? That you might do something else? Was there any question in your mind from the
time you were a – JB: No, I was really kind of stuck with it. There’s a little pressure that goes on when
you have a natural talent you know. Because you’ve got to live up to it and really
produce and be creative when you’re called upon. And there are many days, they talk about the
right place at the right time, that doesn’t happen as often as playing the gig you know? And as a matter of fact, you learn – I don’t
know how to put this – but you learn from your failures and you don’t learn from your
successes. You know? MR: Yeah. JB: And once you listen to a tape of an old
78 or a vinyl, you say now I could have done this better or that better, as a matter of
fact I think it’s interesting from a jazz point of view when I did the Louis Armstrong/Benny
Goodman tour and I played with Louis, as Louis put it, we were walking in the rain one afternoon
and he kind of looked over at me and he said “you’re with the right Benny. You’ve got the right Benny on.” Meaning in that kind of language, a Benny
is a raincoat. And because the fact that I was with Benny’s
band after the war for a year, ten months or whatever it was, and I wrote a bunch of
things for him, which we recorded, as a matter of fact Ernie – well I was delighted to be
with Louis. It was a happy quintet. It was really fun. MR: If you don’t mind, I’m going to play something
that dates back.
MR: I believe this was from 1953. JB: What tune is it? MR: This is “April in Portugal.” So that goes back a ways. JB: Well I’ll tell you, Louis Armstrong, I
like the fact that Wynton Marsalis talks about Louis all the time. And I appreciate that. It makes me listen to him a little more carefully. And Louis was the Messiah of our music, there’s
no two ways about it. And I don’t know how to put this except Louis
was like a great, great obstetrician who delivered a thousand kids but didn’t have any of his
own. MR: I think that’s a pretty good way to put
it. JB: That’s it for sure. And what Louis did, I meant to mention, is
that when I did the Armstrong Goodman concert, he always had a little Wollensack and he would
record every one of our performances. And with all the static and just done off
the cuff he’d throw a mic on the floor someplace, backstage, and I asked him about it and he
was writing his autobiography and playing the tapes the next night or whatever. And I always dressed in Lily’s dressing room,
he insisted on me doing that, and that was great for me. And I got a chance to really – you know I
always loved Louis and we had a great rapport. And he was listening and I remember him listening
to “The Saints Go Marching In” which is a finale. And one evening he played [scats] and he liked
that phrase, so he kept it in from then on. So Louis was a stickler for listening to himself,
and finding riffs that he liked, and avoiding the ones he thought were not as happy or didn’t
sound like him as much as he wanted it to. So he was truly a gifted artist, well we all
know that. MR: He would take something that was improvised
and listen back to it and say hey, that’s a great lick, I’m going to keep that as part
of my – JB: As part of the improvisation, right. When people talk about improvising music,
you’ve got to know the tune to begin with you know. And after you’ve played it a number of times
then it’s fun to improvise on what you’ve originally played, and you find all kinds
of better things to insert, and sometimes you don’t so you go back to what you originally
played, you know, you’ve got a cop out. MR: You’re learning from your mistakes as
you said before. JB: Exactly. You learn from that. And you don’t ever learn from any success
as much. But I must say that that changes that whole
phraseology because if you had a good, successful concert, you do learn some riffs that you
should repeat the next time around. Yeah, really, you learn from every move. MR: Was Joe Glaser managing Louis? JB: Oh yeah, at the time. MR: And when you were with him too. JB: In fact I mean Ernie did a lot of stuff
for Joe, and when I was at the Embers I had Joe represent me. I hardly needed any representation to be playing
nine weeks in a row with a quartet, and then later on I came back and played 26 weeks on
54th Street opposite El Morocco between Lex and Third, and we were always jammed with
people. And there was another reason for it oddly,
the economics of what one does keeps sneaking up on you. For example, there was a war tax after World
War II which went on until the middle 50’s someplace, about ’53. So that went on for a good – the war was over
in ’45 in August, and that went on about seven, eight years. And there was a 20% tax on your bill if there
was dancing or a stand-up comic, any dialogue, or any singing. And that would be considered a show then. MR: You mean for the audience, if their bill
was 20 bucks, there was a 20 percent tax on that as the war tax? JB: Right. But there was no tax for instrumental groups. So if a guy showed up with a party of six
or eight and racked up a tab for a C note or whatever, that twenty dollars took care
of the waiter’s tip and the cab ride. And so we did a lot of business, based on
the fact that during the 26 week scene, we had Red Norvo’s trio and my group. I was there for the whole 26 weeks and whatever
you want to call it, I was considered the draw in the place. And then we had Teddy Wilson and a group,
and actually that was a second floor to the Famous Door. No this is another time, this is way before
that. But at the Embers we did have Roy Eldridge
and the group, and Teddy Wilson and the group, and Red Norvo. So there was always a lot of great music and
the wonderful thing I loved about my group with Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton and Jo Jones,
he was a fantastic artist on the percussion, that if we didn’t sound on the Tuesday night
like we thought we should, I could go out and hock everything I owned and bet that the
first set on Wednesday would be great. Because we all would sleep on it. MR: No kidding. JB: Of course. And in other words, Buck was such a great
player, he would never let himself down. And there were times when things happened
off the gig and at home and with some little kids running around to keep me awake when
you should be getting some rest. You show up kind of beat up and that’s what
it’s all about. MR: Can you recall where you were the day
that the war ended in Japan? JB: That what? MR: Where were you the day the war ended in
Japan? JB: Oh I was on Guam actually, and there were
six or seven of us, Peter Lind Hayes and a few other guys who were involved in the Winged
Victory show. Because when David Rose left wing victory
I became musical director and I was conducting every night. When the show broke up we all wound up – well
not all of us, but Peter Lind Hayes and Larry Adler, the harmonica player’s brother Jerry
Adler played harmonica, that was a great joy, but we wound up playing shows on air craft
carriers and all through the Mariana Islands. We were on Iwo Jima and it was an experience
on Iwo Jima where we had papers to get to Taipan and being on the airfield two or three
mornings in a row we couldn’t get a ride. And we had our orders to be up at Taipan and
we were having some chow and on the chow line, of all people to be there was Tyrone Power,
who was the First Luie I believe, and he was a flyer for a Marine cargo plane. And Peter Lind Hayes went up to him and said
“you did a film with my wife Mary Hailey” and explained we were trying to get to Taipan. He said “that’s where I’m headed if you don’t
mind sitting on the floor of the plane, we don’t have any seats. He said “we’ll be there.” Well the next morning we were off with Power. And he was a perfect G.I. He had a couple of bottles of scotch stashed
in a duffel bag, and then of all guys I meet another Captain in the Marine Corps, was the
guy that wrote “Route 66.” You know the piano? MR: Bobby Troup. JB: Bobby Troup, right. And he was in charge of the black troops,
which were the service group. They would straighten the planes out and load
them up with whatever bombs. I remember being on Tinian when the Seabee’s
left and the new group came in and took over their barracks and they had a wonderful mess
hall fixed you, because the Seabee’s were doing all the building, and usually the outfit
that was on an island longest would replace the Seabee’s as a camp. They would get their camp. This was a whole new outfit and they were
a bunch of guys that that was the Colonel Tippett and the Elona Gay with the atomic
bomb on it, and I’ve got to tell you, the G.I.’s with that outfit had no idea they had
an atomic bomb. They were just simply told they had a very
strong new bomb. MR: They were just doing their job. JB: Right. MR: Was the end of the war a surprise or was
it – JB: Yeah it was quite a surprise because we
were in the trans and flyers barracks and the M.P.’s drove up around three or four in
the morning and said “hey guys, the war is over.” And I had stashed a half a gallon of pure
alcohol, which I got from an aircraft carrier, which you could mix with the little cans of
grapefruit juice, and I mixed a drink for us. And the next move is I went over and started
to choke an accordion player until I could kill him. It took four or five guys to get me off of
him. MR: You weren’t fond of accordions? JB: The guy who played the accordion on the
show that Peter Lind Hayes put together, he was terrible. He couldn’t get through “Melancholy Baby.” I used to play the trumpet with one hand and
the keyboard with my left hand to play the right chords, or something similar to the
right chords. MR: So you figured now that the war’s over
I can let this guy have it. JB: Oh I’ve got to get rid of him. And sure enough, the war was back on. The emperor had reneged and so it was on for
another 24 hours. MR: Oh I didn’t know that. JB: Yeah, there were two – it was a false
alarm and then the next night it was definitely over the next morning. I must say that after Hirohito showed a great
amount of whatever one would call it, unlike our President Clinton, he was a great leader,
where don’t forget, we were dealing with a dictatorship. It was a complete control on Radio Tokyo and
the newspapers and so forth, and the media. And the emperor made a point of announcing
to the Japanese people that they hadn’t lost the war. An agreement was made with the allies to treat
the American G.I.’s like they wanted the Japanese soldiers to be treated in America and England
and so forth. And I never did hear of whatever they call
those traps, the rednecks from Oklahoma who were snagging little Japanese girls off the
street you know and carrying them into corners and over to the railroad station where the
coal was stashed in between set-ups, and carrying on. But there was never a rough up. As a matter of fact I did a 15 minute piano
program, it was actually about 11 minutes with the dialogue, for the Army and they had
the – how I found out about the emperor’s move was through the Japanese Symphony Orchestra
in the next studio at Radio Tokyo. And there were a couple of German French horn
players who spoke English who actually went to school in America, and they’re the ones,
I said I was surprised at not hearing of any rough ups, and they explained that to me. And I got a lot of little post cards from
different ships in the area and various G.I.’s asking for “Sweet Lorraine” and different
tunes that they wanted to hear. It was a piano program. I was kind of the poor man’s Uncle Don of
Radio Tokyo at the time. And they actually gave me a jeep to get from
an insurance building where we were all standing and I’m not very handy with tools, but I had
to remove the carburetor when I parked the jeep otherwise it would be stolen. MR: Oh no kidding. JB: Oh yeah. But those were all – I could go on for nine
days with the war experiences. MR: Let me ask you about a couple of recordings. And if my information is correct, in 1936
you recorded with Billie Holiday. JB: Yeah. “Billie’s Blues,” “Summertime,” and, yeah,
that became a classic 78. MR: She was just – well where was her career
at that point? Was she well known? JB: No she was singing and carrying on in
a saloon up in Harlem, as one of the young, good looking, black gals that the audience
would dig. And Bernie Hanighen, who wrote “As Long as
I Live” and a bunch of other good tunes with Johnny Mercer, was a big fan of Bunny Berigan’s,
Artie Shaw, myself included. And he’s the one, he was an A&R man, a
Repertoire Artists Director of Vocalion Records. And not John Hammond, but Bernie Hanighen
was the first guy to record Billie Holiday. And I went down to Bernie’s little pad in
Greenwich Village. I had a whole stack of lead sheets from motion
picture themes and various songs that the publishers were publishing at the time. That whole business has done a complete 180
turn, where The Beatles, I must give them credit for the fact that they published their
own music. Because once they made a hit, no one else
was going to make it. But that’s not what went on in the music business
at the time. They had the Jimmy Dorsey Band, Woody Herman,
Benny Goodman, you know all of the different bands who were recording for various companies,
and that was the reason to have a publisher but I must say, like all mortgage brokers
and bankers, they had fifty percent of the action. Whereas the lyricist got twenty-five percent
and the composer got twenty-five percent. MR: So the publishers were making out pretty
well. JB: Oh they were doing great. And they had some very low paying professional
men running around delivering lead sheets. MR: Trying to get the bands to record their
songs. JB: Yeah right. And then the publishers might come up with
a case of scotch or some, you know, whatever you want to call it I guess, a payola, of
that time. MR: Did you find Billie Holiday different
or a little difficult to play with because she often times would sing pretty far behind
the beat? JB: Yeah. No I didn’t find that to be true at all. As a matter of fact she showed up at Bernie
Hanighen’s in a house coat with some egg stains on it, and not put together at all, and the
minute she started to sing she looked very beautiful. It happens all the time of course. Like for example, when I was over in London,
I was with Ernie Anderson getting a theater together and so forth, and a guy named Jerome
White, Jerry White, he worked for the Rodgers and Hammerstein people, and he was a Master
Sergeant like myself, as a stage manager for the Winged Victory. And when he found out I was in town he gave
a party for me on the roof or whatever, of a big Marquette room, for the “Porgy & Bess”
cast and whatever was going on at the time in London that he was in charge of. And I was just really delighted to see Cab
Calloway and some wonderful guys, and Bill Bailey was the dancer with the show and he’s
Pearl Bailey’s brother, who I had worked with at the Southland in Boston when I was with
Bunny Berigan’s band. And then Leontyne Price said she was going
to sing, and she wanted to sing “Summertime” and I said “what’s your range, what key do
you do it in?” She said “the entire keyboard, play it in
whatever key is comfortable for you.” And there’s another case of, the minute she
laid her pipes on you, she looked beautiful. But she was so great, I never forgot it. She’d sing anything. MR: Right. Well you did some singing yourself over the
years. JB: Yeah I sang, when I was with Bing I did
a CD for the Norwegian Red Cross which you have a copy of, because Bing was signed with
Polygram at the time and they had a deal arranged with United Artists so Bing said “why don’t
you do it?” And he could sing “Now You Has Jazz” to start
the LP, and then he wrote a corny lyric to a public domain tune that he called “Sail
Away From Norway” as a closing tune on that for the Norwegian Red Cross. So they took care of the boys, and I went
to United Artists studio and did it. No big panic about it. And I was thrilled to have Johnny Smith playing
– I love him, he’s a great, great guy. And Jake Hanna and Milt. We just went ahead and did it. MR: When did you first start to compose? JB: Oh I don’t know. Automatically playing the piano and improvising
you’re composing to start with. There was a situation that you might get a
kick out of. Sinatra was the boy singer, they had Connie
Haines with the group and the Pied Pipers. And I was really delighted to be with the
Dorsey band, because you’ve got a nine foot coffin in front of you, and in any other band
you’re out there alone. It’s not like being one of the trumpet players
with a cohort on either side of you. And for instance when we were playing The
Astor Roof back in 1940, if some exuberant female started pulling her dress up above
her earlobes or whatever on the dance floor, and carrying on, I always had Sinatra sitting
right by the piano to tap me on the shoulder and not look at the lead sheet, not look at
the arrangement, you know, check that arrangement now. So I had that, that was fun for me. And I really loved being around the Pied Pipers
and Joe’s staff and whatever. We were doing a program called Fame And Fortune. Oddly enough it was the Nature’s Remedy company. And they made a laxative for older people
and Tums you know, and here they were, they booked the Tommy Dorsey Band, which appealed
to the youth. So that made a lot of sense. MR: Brought to you by Nature’s Laxative. JB: Huh? MR: Oh that’s funny. JB: Yeah. And every week we’d get a stack of tunes because
the winning tune would be the closing number of the half hour show, and it would always
be done with the Pied Pipers and Connie Haines and Sinatra, and they’d make a big production
out of it. And you couldn’t look for any musical talent
there except if you can run into a lyric that made any sense at all, Sy Oliver and Alex
Stordahl and Paul Weston, we had three great arrangers, and myself, could sketch out a
production number and make it sound good. And Tommy Dorsey in his most generous fashion,
as we call him, the “laughing Irishman,” the big prize on the program was a hundred dollar
war bond, or a one hundred dollar government bond at the time, and that the Tommy Dorsey,
BMI Publishing Company would be publishing the song that was chosen. MR: How did they decide who the winner was? JB: Well it was just by mail that came in
on the tunes, and reaction from people, I guess you might call it a poll taken in some
sense. Yeah, that’s how they decided on it. And we got out to the west coast and opened
the Hollywood Palladium, the Dorsey band did, and somehow or other Tommy’s music company
didn’t forward the music for the Fame and Fortune Program. This was like a Wednesday, and the program
was Thursday, or maybe it was a Tuesday and a Wednesday. We were at the L.A. Paramount. I think it was called the Philharmonic at
the time, and doing a film and a swing band stage show in between each film. And we were looking for a tune and it hadn’t
arrived, and I had written a tune, I had written a couple of tunes for the Pied Pipers because
they had very few arrangements for the Pipers with the band. And Tommy was never there for the first set. And he’d leave for the last set. He’d come in and do a set for dancing and
then a show and so forth. And Bunny Berigan was with the band when I
joined Tommy’s band, and Bunny would always call “Oh Look at Me Now” and Sinatra would
do “How Do You Do Without Me” which are two tunes I had written at the time for them,
during the first set. And people would dance by and ask Tommy for
“Oh Look at Me Now,” and he said “we don’t have that,” because he had no idea we had
it. And so Sy or Alex Stordahl said “why don’t
we use one of Joe’s tunes and not put my name on it, because if you were part of the band
you weren’t allowed to submit a tune for a winner on the program and so forth. Same old. And so they just put Johnny DeVries name on
it. And later on when all the other people recorded
it they had my name on the record. And I managed to get it away from Tommy to
put in ASCAP when I joined ASCAP. And I was writing a whole lot of stuff. I started to write a show with DeVries and
I was very happy writing with him. But anyway, that got the most mail. So we recorded it with another tune. Tommy made it the B side to keep the noise
down. And that turned out to be a standard hit as
it turns out. And what happened is I wrote it for the Pipers
and it was easy enough to put Sinatra into it, and Connie Haines. And so that became an ad lib. We did it the very same night. We chose it that afternoon and that night
we did the Fame and Fortune program and Sy Oliver and Alex Stordahl with some strips
of music, five lines to change a riff here and there, in order to match up all the singers
doing it and so forth, and make a production out of it. And that’s how that happened. And actually I started to tell you during
the way when I was a band leader at Douglas I was in town and I ran into Frank at the
Brown Derby and he invited me back to the Huntington Hartford Theater where they were
doing the Old Gold program. And he said Jesus, a lot of cats who were
in Tommy’s band are with the studio band. They’d love to hang out again. And also the fact that you couldn’t get a
drink if you were in uniform until 5 P.M., and this was around lunch time. He said “I’ve got a bar set up in my dressing
room, you can carry on.” And he said “have you been writing any tunes?” And I said “well some marches and so forth.” And I did “Hot Time in the Town of Berlin.” He said I can’t record it because we can’t
use musicians, but Bing has a retroactive deal with the union, and I know he’s recording
next week, and so he said his company, Frank’s company, would publish it and get it to Bing. And then later on I talked to Bing and Bing
said “I saw your name on it, Master Sergeant Joe Bushkin, PFC Johnny DeVries.” He said “I knew you could use a few extra
bucks with the kind of loot you were getting from the government from that band, and so
I was going to record it. I didn’t even know what it went like. And it turned out to be a hit as things would
happen. MR: You said he had some kind of deal with
the union? He could record –
JB: With musicians. And so he and the Andrews Sisters and the
band, Vic Schoen was the arranger then from the Andrews Sisters, and he could use musicians
because Bing owned half of Decca. So he was able to say you’ve got half of the
royalty on any of the records for the Musician’s Pension Fund. That’s what it was all about. And the other companies were backing off,
because they kept insisting, look we only pay our men $30 for a three hour session and
we’re not paying any royalty to you, so they’d try to beat the rap. MR: I guess that was a good thing in the end,
but there was a lot of music that was lost during those two years that never got on wax. JB: Yeah. Like there were a lot of three point baskets
not thrown by the NBA with their strike. MR: That’s true. JB: It’s the same old – it will go on forever. MR: Good analogy. JB: I’m not concerned about that. I have no feeling about longevity, because
everything seems to be the same anyway. MR: You witnessed some of the changes in the
segregation between the blacks and whites in music. JB: Well let’s see. In Benny’s band as you know, Lionel Hampton
and I don’t know – in 1951 I opened the Embers, I had Buck Clayton – oddly enough I had three
black guys with me. Milt Hinton, Buck Clayton and Jo Jones. Later on Johnny Smith. Buck had to do some stuff with Count Basie
again and Johnny Smith came in and played with us so we were split equally, two white
and two colored. And as a young kid, or going to school, there
was always deep segregation. And as a matter of fact, a thing that Milt
Hinton was telling me was that he was the first concert bassist with the Northwestern
Symphony Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony needed bass players. And he was not invited to audition, because
there were no blacks in symphony orchestras at that point. It’s hard to believe but that’s what’s happening. And it’s going to take another hundred years
or two for it to straighten itself out I’m sure. MR: You were involved in one of Bing Crosby’s
last recording too, weren’t you? It was around ’76 or so? JB: Yeah back in ’77 actually when we did
the Norwegian – MR: That was one of the last ones. JB: Yeah, under my label, under my name, whatever. And Bing sang “Now You Has Jazz” and “Sail
Away from Norway,” and that’s really the last commercial record he ever did. As a matter of fact when you talk about the
segregation of black musicians or white musicians back then, it didn’t seem to matter if a guy
was blue, black, yellow or green if he sounded great, played like Louis Armstrong, you could
be whiter than white. MR: I have another selection here that goes
back a ways. It’s really a different style. I’m curious about why this particular kind
of music was being done at the time. I think you’ll probably recognize this.
JB: Yeah well that’s Ray Conniff who was in Bunny Berigan’s band, we were together, and
he did some choral records for Columbia, for Mitch Miller, and they seemed to catch on
and Capitol wanted me to use a choral group with the piano. That’s how that came about. MR: And this was around what year? Do you remember? I have the record here. JB: Yeah, around ’55, ’54, ’55. MR: Yeah. There seemed to be a whole kind of, a lot
of instrumental music popular even into the 50’s. JB: Oh absolutely. And the first LP I did for Capitol, it was
a wonderful man, his name was Abe Berman, and he represented Harold Alden, Johnny Mercer,
Vince Newman – I could go on almost forever, and he was a wonderful, wonderful old guy. And he knew I was at the Embers and doing
well, and I made some records for Columbia with a quartet, you probably know about those
records. And I was talking to Abe about, well he sold
Capitol Records for Johnny Mercer and Buddy DeSilva, to EMI, the Electric Music Industries
in London. And obviously being the attorney making the
deal, he knew their kind of thinking. And back then, as you know, Art Tatum or Teddy
Wilson, it didn’t matter who it was, a jazz recording, if it sold 25,000 LP’s it was like
a July 4th celebration. And I just talked to Abe about it. I said “the idea is to get a wider public
and play some ballads” or whatever. So he had an idea and he talked to me and
he talked to the company and the deal he got for me was that I would record a mood album
with piano and I was going to use strings and orchestra. And if I sold 50,000 within six months, they
would then be obligated to pick up a three year contract of three LP’s a year, all right,
and I’d be allowed to use the same amount of men that I paid for on the first LP. So I was able to use all kinds of different
instrumentation later on with Ken Hopkins, we worked on a “Blue Angels” LP with eight
trombones, you know, for stereo, with four on each speaker, which an engineer screwed
up by putting it all together of course. But that’s the way the thinking was at the
time. But what I did was after doing the LP I was
in the position to pay for its time and also I was in a position to go off on the road. I was staying in Palm Springs at the time
with the family, and I started a tour up in Boston in February in the middle of a snow
storm. And back in those days there was a whole different
approach to marketing recordings. Every company had their own professional manager
in every major city, including Hartford and New Haven etcetera, and that manager would
hire two or three salesmen to go around with the recordings and go to the department stores
and little record shops or gramaphone shops or whatever, and they’d get some action for
you. And the way to get that going was simply to
show up and do a disc jockey tour in each town. So I never did go to bed to speak of for about
20 cities in a row, oh I think it was 26. And by the time I got to Chicago from Boston,
I went by Marshall Field and wanted to get a few LP’s, and they said “we have orders
for about a dozen of them.” They didn’t know who I was, and “we can put
you on a waiting list.” I couldn’t understand that and I called Abe
Berman. And as it turned out, Mike Maitland, who later
went with Reprise and all that, he was supposed to, he and a chap named Bud Frazier, were
in charge of making sure that there were enough LP’s that were going to be sold. And the deal that Abe Berman had organized
for me was that I would sell 50,000 in six months. And they only pressed 25,000. So that, so Abe called Glen Wallichs who was
in charge of, he had been in charge when Mercer owned it and Abe certainly knew him, and he
said that doesn’t fly. And they had Columbia and Decca and every
other company pressing my LP to get it out real quick, so that we sold 300,000 of the
LP’s in the first year. Then of course they picked up the contract
and I went on and did other mood albums. And of course the company, they had an A&R
man who used to be a trombonist, Andy Winslow with Guy Lombardo’s band, that was a big help
to me, and whenever the orchestra overshadowed the piano, fortunately my wife Frannie was
in the control booth and let me know that. So we straightened that out. Anyway then I did “Skylight Rhapsody” and
the third LP of mood albums with a 45, 50 piece band was a thing called “A Fellow Needs
a Girl.” And the cover of that was done by a good friend
of ours, Dickie Avedon, the great photographer. It’s the only album cover that he’d ever done,
or ever did since. So that’s a kick. Anyway and then trying to find all the standards
that I had on the first LP got a little difficult. By the third LP there were no more standards
to look for. MR: I see. So you were like scraping for material. JB: Yeah. It didn’t make any sense. And that’s when I switched over to doing “Night
Sound,” “Blue Angel,” “I Get a Kick out of Porter,” because I had Cole Porter’s music
to work with. And the Irving Berlin album. That was based on his 50th year as a composer. And I used “I Love A Piano” as a theme song,
which he wrote in 1917, the year after I was born, and I got to know Irving. I did the Bell Telephone Hour when they did
an Irving Berlin special and he was there and I was delighted to hang out with him. And I went over and saw him, I only lived
a couple of blocks from Beekman Place where Berlin lived. We were on Sutton. And I went over and had some coffee with him
and to discuss it. And I thought of doing a 50th, because you
can get almost 30 minutes on an LP side. And even the ballad would not take more than
a minute, that’s why usually back in those days the single records always were two and
a half minutes or three minutes. And so I figured you could do 25 on each side,
that would be his 50th anniversary. And the way to do it obviously, which Berlin
came up with, I wanted to try and do like an orchestral overture, and it got a little
complicated, in sketching it. And he said “why don’t you just do it like
a Tommy Dorsey arrangement” or Les Brown or whatever, swing bands. He said you could whistle that one out, you
can put that together. So we did on the Berlin album, it was “Bushkin
Spotlights Berlin” they changed it to “Irving Berlin Piano Party” or something on the CD. But anyway we just did it like a medley. A bunch of ballads and then an uptempo thing,
and it was all connected. And he got a big charge out of that, he really
did. In fact he was like – Irving Berlin, you see
all of the composers, Jimmy VanHeusen, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter – I can
go on and on with it – were all great song pluggers. And when you recorded their music, they loved
you for it, of course. MR: He’s not the guy that composed everything
in one key, is he? JB: Yeah. He composed everything on the black keys. I couldn’t play on the black keys, but that’s
the way he played. He was self taught and he had it covered. He was wonderful. MR: Let me just ask you a couple, maybe a
quick comment about some of the other – that long, long list of people you’ve worked with. What kind of boss was Tommy Dorsey? JB: Oh Tommy was fine in this sense. If you could improvise, he’d never give you
any heat. Like Don Lodice, Buddy Rich, Bunny Berigan,
myself, Ziggy. He’d always pick on the good technical players,
of which he was the best. Tommy had the most tremendous trombone technique,
and breathing and so forth. Sinatra always talks about him, learned how
to breathe, long phrases based on Tommy Dorsey’s method of doing it. But he was very difficult with any – like
the lead saxophone player, lead trumpet player. And I remember one time when we were doing
the Fame and Fortune program and we were in New York playing, and I think we were at the
Astor Roof as a matter of fact, and we went to NBC and recorded the Fame and Fortune show. And the sponsor of the program was there and
something happened with a DS. In musical terms it’s called del signa, it’s
the Italian phrase for go back to the sign. So when you have a del signa, which is DS
a circle with a cross in it and a couple of dots, at a certain barline, say bar one or
two, and instead of writing a first and second ending, because if you wanted that section
repeated you just put a DS sign where you wanted it to go back. Anyway a couple of guys in the band didn’t
pay any attention to the DS sign and it sounded strange. And Tommy wanted to make good with the sponsor
being there. He kind of had a little apple pie on his face. And we had Steve Lipkins, who is a wonderful lead
trumpet player with us, along with Chuck Peterson and other guys – but he would pick on Steve. And he said “Lipkins” and Steve never was
dialogue free. He came from a – his dad was an anti-trust
lawyer, was one of those very, very high end. MR: Straight laced kind of guys? JB: Yeah very strict and so forth. And Steven had that built in. And Steve stood up and Tommy said “what does
DS mean?” And Steve said “Dorsey Stinks.” That broke the band up of course, we loved
him for it. I thought Tommy would get mad at him but he
thought it was very special. MR: Oh yeah? JB: Yeah. Tommy was okay. And Tommy loved playing jazz on the trumpet
and when I was with the band Bunny Berigan would actually toss his trumpet clear from
the trumpet section over to the piano during “Loosers Weepers” when Tommy was playing some
trumpet solo, and then I would follow that. It was a Blues in B flat. And the guys in the band loved the idea that
I would out-improvise them every time. So he never gave me any heat. MR: Oh great. How about Eddie Condon? JB: Oh I loved Eddie, Eddie was a barrel house,
he was one of the guys in the band. The thing about Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman
and Bunny Berigan especially, they were instrumentalists, like we were. It wasn’t like Paul Whiteman or someone up
there with a fiddle under his arm who didn’t play. And that makes a big difference. MR: They weren’t just leaders, they were players
too. JB: They were players. That was very important. MR: What’s your musical taste these days? What do you like to listen to? JB: I don’t really listen to very much music. I still listen to Louis Armstrong, a lot of
his tapes. And I have a big problem with understanding
the lyrics of a lot of the Rock ‘n Roll people, and I like a lot of them. I get a kick out of the Gospel sound, I really
like that. And I don’t know, at my age and four grown
up kids later and three grandchildren, I’m kind of busy hanging with my Louis Armstrong. MR: Right. Well you can’t go wrong with that, that’s
for sure. JB: No. No way. I wrote a couple of things for the Benny Goodman
band, Ernie Anderson, who became entertainment direction for Esquire got Johnny DeVries and
I to write a tune for the 1947 year end issue. And I wrote “The Man Here Plays Fine Piano”
for that, and Benny Goodman’s band recorded it. And I forget the name of the gal who was singing
with us at the time sang it. I put that together. And then there was a sponsor – well when I
joined Benny’s band I was with the NBC Orchestra with Bobby Hackett and a bunch of guys, and
Benny was in town, and I always wanted to play with Benny. I knew from the time I was 12, 13 years old
actually, because I played in a high school band with his brother Irving, who was a good
trumpet player. I got to know Harry Goodman, was in my Army
band, I mean I’m totally involved with that family. And the sponsor was there with a very beautiful
as I recall, Danish wife. Well it was a program called Concert Under
the Stars, and Benny was just delighted about me being with the NBC band because he didn’t
have to pay me for the program, NBC was paying me. That was a way to save a few bucks. And I wrote a couple of arrangements for him
so I can pick up an extra seventy-five or a C note, each arrangement, every week. And I was rehearsing “Don’t Blame Me” I remember
that tune, rehearsing them. And I wrote an intro like Bunny Berigan’s
“I Can’t Get Started” for him and then realized that Benny didn’t read guitar changes, for
the chord changes, to improvise on the changes. MR: Benny didn’t? JB: No. He didn’t. He could read all the notes, classically written,
but not the guitar changes, which is… MR: Oh no kidding? JB: Well that’s a jazz manner of knowing chord
changes. Simplifies it. But would you excuse me for a minute? MR: Sure. We’re just about done too. [pause]
MR: I’ll just wrap you up and you’ll be done. JB: I’ll just finish the story about the sponsor
with Benny. MR: Right, and then I’ll just thank you and
we can be on our way. JB: That’s cool. Tim: We’ll be done in a couple of seconds
and you’ll be all set. MR: Yeah. Let’s just wrap this up. Are we rolling? JB: I’ll just continue on. Well being with NBC and doing the Concert
of the Stars, that’s when I joined Benny’s band. When that program was over in New York, it
was the summertime apparently, then when we went to the west coast, and this is something
that bothered Benny a lot, it was called the Victor Borge program. It was for Mobil gas and Ciccone. And the reason for it, no one knew who Victor
Borge was. They knew who Benny Goodman’s band was. But it turns out that the sponsor was married
to a very, very beautiful Danish lady, and they came down to say hello to Benny. They wanted to meet him. And you know, Benny and his graceful manner
didn’t bother to introduce me, I was standing right there scribbling out his chord changes
on his part. And the sponsor’s wife said “I don’t understand
if this program is called ‘Concert of the Stars’ in Denmark, at a park concert, they
always start with a march.” And that kind of confused Benny slightly. And he just turned around and said “Joe, bring
a couple marches in next week.” You know that was the end of that. So I brought in Sousa’s “Under the Double
Eagle” [scats] and I did a jazz arrangement of that and a jazz arrangement of a tune called
“Colonel Bogie,” which later on became a big hit on the “Bridge Over the River Kwai.” And Benny in his stubborn manner, you know
if you say yes, he’d have to say no, there was no other way, he wouldn’t record “Colonel
Bogie.” And the guys in the band loved playing “Colonel
Bogie” because it swung more. You know it had a better swing sound. Anyway Benny called “Under the Double Eagle”
that I did, he called it “Benji’s Bauble,” one of his daughter’s names, and put his name
on it and my name, so I got a little royalty out of that. In any case that’s the end of that story. MR: Right. Well you know you’ve had just the longest,
most productive career, and it’s been a great pleasure talking to you. JB: Okay, thank you, Monk. MR: Out here in Los Angeles. So I appreciate your time, and bringing these
CDs for me to listen to back at the college. JB: Sure. MR: Well I most appreciate it. I’m sure our students will get a lot out of
– JB: Say hello to all the jazz fans at Hamilton. Because they were just the greatest. And I’ve got Joe Anderson’s Vermont phone
number, that’s where he’s living these days. MR: Yes he is. JB: And I’ve got his phone number, I’ve got
to give him a call and tell him we were together. MR: In fact I think I’ll send him a copy of
this video. JB: Oh he’d love to have it, I’m sure. MR: And you’ll get one too. JB: Okay Monk, all the best.

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