Bob Merrill – Tell Me Your Troubles: Songs By Joe Bushkin Volume 1 – Accurate Records AC 5071 48:55*** 

A tasty tribute to a fine pianist and an interesting songwriter. 

Whitney Balliett in writing a feature piece on Joe Bushkin for the February 21,1983 edition of The New Yorker described his piano style as“primitive, elegant, flashy, swinging…It is hornlike rather than pianistic.” While we only get a brief taste of that piano style, son-in-law Bob Merrill has put together  a warm tribute to the song-writer Joe Bushkin in Tell Me Your Troubles which may be the first offering in bringing his talents to a new audience.

Many of Bushkin’s compositions that are featured on this release might be “head scratchers” in terms of recognition. However there are two that are really well known, principally due to their association with Frank Sinatra. They are “ Oh! Look At Me Now” and “Something Wonderful Happens In Summer”. The former was written for Sinatra when both he and Bushkin were with the Tommy Dorsey Band in 1941 and it became a big hit. In this version which was recorded in 2003, (Bushkin died in 2004) with Bushkin on piano doing fills and background, Merrill handles the vocal in a tempo that mimics the Sinatra version done in 1957. A well-executed finger snapping version.  On the latter number, Sinatra recorded the ballad in 1957, and was a moderate hit for the singer. Merrill’s vocal version is also done as a ballad with lovely tenor backing from Harry Allen during his run through of the lyric. Pianist Rossano Sportiello is also featured with note.

The balance of the Bushkin compositions are a rather eclectic mix. There is “Boogie Woogie Blue Plate” that showcases trombonist Wycliffe Gordon singing the verse, with bassist/vocalist Nicki Parrott in a waitress mode as she calls out the orders in true 1940s fashion. The title track “Tell Me Your Troubles”  is done as a ballad in 3/4 time with guest pianist Laurence Hobgood showing his lyrical touch, along with tenor saxophonist Harry Allen in sympathetic support. “Goin’ Back To Storyville” was written on the occasion of Louis Armstrong’s 50th birthday, which Louis added to his repetoire, and commemorates the infamous area of New Orleans where he was born. With Wycliffe Gordon in full “Louis” mode along with the superb clarinetist Adrian Cunningham, the tune evokes the district that influenced the song.

This release is a tasty tribute to a fine pianist and interesting song writer.

Frank Remembers Joe
Oh! Look At Me Now
Hot Time In The Town Of Berlin
Wise To Myself
Boogie Woogie Blue Plate
Tell Me Your Troubles
Girl Wanted
Lovely Weather
Goin’Back To Storyville
Something Wonderful Happens In Summer
Man Here Plays Fine Piano
Red Buttons Remembers Joe

Performer List:
Bob Merrill – vocals, trumpet, cornet & flugelhorn
Howard Alden – guitar
Nicki Parrott – bass & vocal #5
Steve Johns – drums
Harry Allen – tenor sax
Laurence Hobgood – piano #6,8,11
John Colianni – piano #3,5,9,11
Rossano Sportello – piano #10,11
Adrian Cunningham – alto sax & clarinet
Lisa Gary, Shannon Day – background vocals #3

Special guests:
Joe Bushkin – piano #2
Kathryn Crosby – vocal #3
Bucky Pizzarelli – guitar #5,9
Eric Comstock – vocal & piano #4,7
Wycliffe Gordon – trombone & vocal #5,9
Duffy Jackson – drums #2

—Pierre Giroux