Jazz pianist and songwriter Joe Bushkin, who co-wrote Frank Sinatra's first hit song and played with some of the greatest jazz legends of his time, has died. He was 87.

Jazz pianist and songwriter Joe Bushkin, who co-wrote Frank Sinatra's first hit song and played with some of the greatest jazz legends of his time, has died. He was 87.

Bushkin died Wednesday (Nov. 3) of pneumonia at his Santa Barbara, Calif., home, his daughter Nina Bushkin says.

In a career that spanned more than eight decades, Bushkin played and recorded with such jazz and big band greats as Fats Waller, Eddie Condon and Billie Holiday. He also co-wrote the song "Oh! Look at Me Now" that launched Frank Sinatra's career when they were members of Tommy Dorsey's band.

During one concert, Judy Garland introduced Bushkin as "a musician's musician, but he plays awfully pretty for the people," according to his daughter Christina Bushkin Merrill, whose sister, Tippy Bushkin, made a short documentary on the musician's life.

Born Nov. 7, 1916, in New York City, Bushkin grew up the son of Russian immigrants. He learned to play the piano at 10 and started playing professionally in 1932 with Frank LaMarr at the Roseland Ballroom in Brooklyn. Three years later, he became intermission pianist at the Famous Door, where the Bunny Berigan Boys, a group that included guitarist Eddie Condon and pianist George Zack, played.

He ended up replacing Zack. In a 1984 interview with the New York Times, Bushkin compared the experience to "going to the New York Yankees from a farm team and scoring some singles."

Bushkin would go on to play with Condon and Joe Marsala and Tommy Dorsey. He befriended his idols Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Benny Goodman, and played on Billie Holiday's first recording under her own name in 1936.

He told the Times that his musical style was most influenced by Armstrong.

"There's a lot of Louis Armstrong in my playing," he said. "The essence of his music I'd describe as finding the simplest way to the core of a musical piece."

Bushkin is survived by his wife and four daughters: Nina Bushkin Judson, Christina Bushkin Merrill, Tippy Bushkin and Maria Bushkin Stave.

A private family funeral was planned for Sunday, which would have been his 88th birthday. "That was important to him. Joe wanted very much to make it to 88 because there are 88 keys on a piano," said his son-in-law Bob Merrill, a trumpet player who performed with Bushkin for the last 15 years.

Public memorial tributes were being planned for Los Angeles and New York City, Merrill said.


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