Back in 1952, 161 E. 54th St. was home to the Embers, a Midtown Manhattan restaurant and nightclub that routinely featured jazz musicians and ensembles. Artists tended to play swing standards during their runs there so older patrons would feel at home. Among the great artists who recorded at the Embers were Art Tatum, Buck Clayton, Teddy Wilson, Dorothy Donegan and others.
Early in 1952, pianist Joe Bushkin recorded there over a series of days with bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Jo Jones plus special guest trumpeter Buck Clayton. It wasn't an official label recording. Violinist and audio engineer David Sarser had brought in a portable Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder to preserve what he heard. The results on The Joe Bushkin Quartet: Live at the Embers, 1952 is a clean and fascinating recording by the pianist, who began his career with New York dance bands.
In the late 1930s, Bushkin played with Bunny Berigan's orchestra and, in 1940, was at the keyboard in Tommy Dorsey's band when Frank Sinatra was the male vocalist between 1940 and '42. In fact, Bushkin, who also was a gifted songwriter, wrote Sinatra's first big hit with Dorsey, Oh! Look at Me Now. After serving during World War II, Bushkin played with Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman and others. In the mid-1950, he recorded extensively for Capitol after having a hit with Midnight Rhapsody in early 1956.
On this album, which was previously released in 2006 on a different label under Buck Clayton's name, we hear a relaxed Bushkin backed by Hinton and Jones, two gold-standard sidemen. Tracks with Clayton also are top shelf. Perhaps the high point is the ballad medley of Easy Living, I've Got the World on a String, If You Were Mine and Body and Soul. Honeysuckle Rose provides us with Clayton's horn and a Jones drum solo that's absolutely amazing.
Listening to this album at the Embers (above), one hears old New York, when the East Side was dominated by brownstones and six-story apartment buildings. Today, the block is sterile home to massive skyscrapers, including the north end of the Citicorp Building.
Joe Bushkin died in 2004.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find The Joe Bushkin Quartet: Live at the Embers, 1952 here.
To download the liner notes by Robert Merrill for free, go here.
JazzWax clips: Here's Honeysuckle Rose...
And here's Bushkin on the Rosemary Clooney Show in 1956 singing his own composition, Oh! Look at Me Now...