Monday, July 13, 2009

Liner notes for SSJ Fall 2009 release, In the Mood for A Song?

Getting in touch with the rightful owner of the master of this album, veteran music executive Mort Hillman, was easy enough. And after negotiations were completed for SSJ’s release of the 1955 LP, next came the task of securing some background on the making of the disc. But so far back in time did Hillman oversee the production of the recording---more than fifty years ago---that he can only remember a few scant details about the artist, Corky Shayne.

Hillman’s hazy memory was complicated by the fact that the singer’s lone album was but one of hundreds of projects he was associated with between 1947,when he joined the Tommy Dorsey band as a trumpet player, and his retirement from music in 1980 when he entered the world of politics as a New York State assemblyman. Before that, Hillman was also a vocal group singer (The C Notes), the owner of Chicago’s Salem Records and, later, an exec with Jubilee, Audio Fidelity and Music Minus One Records. He also acted as a producer for these labels.

Hillman was also the personal manager of, among others, singer-pianist Joe Derise, singer Paula Castle and jazz star Herbie Mann. And this represents but a small part of his activities in the music business. Today Hillman is retired and living happily with his wife, Ruth, in Florida (where he still remains active in local Democratic Party politics).

Hillman can recall doing a record promo tour with Shayne, including appearances by Shayne on popular radio shows in the Chicago area such as those of popular dee-jays Howard Miller and Marty Faye. But that was just about it, . . .aside from the obscure recollection that Shayne’s uncle ran a popular record store in Chicago. And when I contacted the esteemed Chicago arranger Johnny Pate who arranged and played on the Shayne date, he could not even recall the session. I wasn’t surprised, for drawing blanks such as this is often the case today with still active session musicians who oftentimes cannot even recall record dates from the recent past, much less a half-century ago.

And were it not for the help of legendary Chicago singer-pianist Audrey Morris who did, in fact, recall Shayne from the golden era of the Fifties music scene in Chicago, I might never have ascertained the few facts about the singer that I finally did. In late 2008, the still professionally active Morris put me in touch with Shayne’s half-sister, Ava Schneider, who was able to supply me with a few facts about Shayne. From Schneider I learned that Corky (real name Corinne) was born in 1932 in Illinois and that she died in Indian Wells, California in 2005. But Shayne was more than two decades older than Schneider; thus, the singer’s professional career was over and done with by the time her half-sister would’ve been old enough to remember anything about it.

Schneider recalls that her sister didn’t remain in Chicago too much longer after her performing activities ceased, and that Shayne then moved to the Los Angeles area where she remained active in show business, but behind the scenes with a series of jobs as assistant to music industry executives. Somewhere along the line, Shayne was married to a certain Eugene Willage, but I was unable to learn how the marriage played out, nor could Corky’s half-sister summon up what happened with it either. Shayne’s half-sister also said that somewhere along the line, Corky became an avid golfer and eventually moved to Palm Springs, California area where she could actively pursue her growing interest in the sport. Clearly, if she was half as good a golfer as she was a singer, then Shayne must’ve had more than her share of holes in one.

--- Bill Reed