“I Surrender, Dear”
Music by Harry Barris; arrangement by Jerry Gray and Artie Shaw.
Recorded on August 27, 1939 by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra for RCA/Bluebird in New York.
Artie Shaw, clarinet, directing: Bernie Privin, first trumpet; Chuck Peterson and Harry Geller, trumpets; George Arus, first trombone; Les Jenkins and Harry Rodgers, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Hank Freeman, alto saxophone; Tony Pastor and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Bob Kitsis, piano; Al Avola, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.
The music: This recording by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra of “I Surrender, Dear” is superlative. It presents Shaw’s soaring, rhapsodic clarinet at its best. This is virtuoso playing of the highest order, but it is not a gratuitous display of technique: the technique is used for expressive, musical purposes. This performance also includes two brilliantly conceived (by Shaw himself) and played saxophone soli, plus a tasty piano solo, played by Bob Kitsis, whose main piano inspiration came from Teddy Wilson. The arrangement, which is perfectly paced and balanced in every respect, seems so right. One wonders how such perfection could have been arrived at. (At left: Shaw in 1939.)
As was the case with numerous other swing era masterpieces, the seemingly perfect expression of “I Surrender, Dear” that Shaw recorded on August 27, 1939, had its genesis long before. The song itself was composed in 1931, with music by Harry Barris, and lyric by Gordon Clifford. Harry Barris was the piano playing member of the Rhythm Boys, a vocal and instrumental group that also included Al Rinker, singer Mildred Bailey’s brother, and Bing Crosby. The Rhythm Boys achieved a good bit of popularity during the time they were featured with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra, which was intermittently from late 1926 until early 1930. After leaving Whiteman, the Rhythm Boys worked with California bandleader Gus Arnheim for a time, during which they recorded “I Surrender, Dear.” Perhaps more importantly, Crosby appeared in a short film entitled I Surrender, Dear, directed by Mack Sennett in mid-1931, and sang the song in that film. In 1931, Crosby was on the cusp of becoming the most consistent hit maker of the next 15 years. Soon, other artists were covering the song, and it became very popular in the early 1930s.
Artie Shaw undoubtedly was familiar with this song well before he made a notable recording of it as a sideman with Red Norvo and His Swing Septet on September 26, 1934. Whatever the case, he seemed to like the melody, and had Jerry Gray make an arrangement on it for one of the first Brunswick commercial recordings Shaw made with his “New Music” band on May 18, 1937. (See below for that recording.) That arrangement was played often by the Shaw band in the 27 months between the Brunswick recording and the classic Bluebird recording. It also underwent many salutary changes, as one can readily hear when comparing the two recordings. Probably the most important changes were the inclusion of the marvelous saxophone section soli sequences, which are performed superbly by Shaw’s saxophone quartet under Les Robinson’s luminescent lead, a much more relaxed overall performance that rests gently on drummer Buddy Rich’s brushed high-hat cymbals; and a slower, indeed insinuating, tempo.(1)
The story: Art Shaw became a bandleader in the summer of 1936.(2) What impelled him in this direction was his success with an ad hoc group of musicians at the now legendary Imperial Theater Swing Concert, which took place in Manhattan on May 24, 1936, the day after Shaw’s 26th birthday.
Shaw was a fine musician who had basically made his living over the previous ten years as a lead alto saxophonist, who doubled on clarinet. Shaw’s basic professional credentials were that he was a master of his instruments, he read music fluently, and he had a definite gift for lyrical improvisation. His work as a staff musician at CBS radio, which lasted from August 1931 until the late spring or early summer of 1932, required that he use those skills daily. If anything, that work honed his skill as an interpreter of melodies, and increased his skill as both a lead alto saxophonist and a clarinetist. (Shaw, like all the other musicians who worked at CBS, had to up his game to keep up there. The musicians at CBS who were there when Shaw was, and later, were among the finest in the nation.) At CBS, Shaw was required to play melodies, embellish melodies, and play melodic obbligati behind all sorts of music and other things. Despite the fact that Shaw worked at CBS five to seven days a week for months on end, he still took opportunities to work “on the outside,” playing for recording sessions in New York. As one can imagine, all of this work in commercial radio and recording left little time for Shaw to play his own gigs, or to play with bands on casual dates, though he did play a few. (Above left: Art Shaw performs at the 1936 Imperial Theater Swing Concert.)
Like most of the other musicians at CBS who were capable of playing jazz, Shaw had to relieve the tedium of doing the kind of work required by CBS by changing his musical scenery periodically. Shaw accepted an offer from bandleader Vincent Lopez, and joined his band in the summer of 1932. Lopez’s band certainly had little to do with jazz, but the pay was good, and the band did travel to the Midwest to play various engagements, including a couple of location gigs where the band would settle for a period of time. Shaw basically played lead alto for Lopez, and solos on either alto saxophone or clarinet, when required. Lopez was a perceptive enough musician to recognize Shaw’s talent. “He was a brilliant musician, but that talent had a temperament to match.”(3) Shaw and Lopez came to a parting of the ways after Shaw accused Lopez of being a “slave driver” because Lopez was rehearsing the band extra hours in preparation for their big opening at the Joseph Urban Room of the Congress Hotel in Chicago.
Extra rehearsals or not, Shaw had been casting about for other employment, and had pursued a very good offer from bandleader Roger Wolfe Kahn.(4) Shaw joined Kahn’s band in late July of 1932. (Shaw is shown in the early 1930s above right.)
Roger Wolfe Kahn was the son of the wealthy financier/industrialist/patron of the arts Otto Kahn. Roger Wolfe Kahn loved two activities: flying and music. Kahn’s interest in music and the entertainment business were genuine, though he seemed to enjoy the show business life more than the nuts and bolts of running a band. His work as a bandleader, due to the strong financial support he always received from his parents, was usually well-publicized and financially successful. Kahn left music soon after his father’s death on March 29, 1934, and thereafter involved himself more deeply in aviation.
Artie Shaw worked for Kahn until late in 1932, and played in addition to alto saxophone and clarinet, baritone saxophone and flute. Recordings exist of Shaw playing these instruments. One of the most notable occurrences from Shaw’s time with the Kahn band was his appearance with them in a short Vitaphone film called The Yacht Party. This film was made at the Vitaphone/Warner Brothers studio in Brooklyn, New York in August of 1932, with release by September 23, 1932.(5) Shaw is plainly visible in this film playing alto saxophone and clarinet, and plays a good clarinet solo on “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” early in the film. (I have posted a link to a video of that film below.)
Art Shaw with Roger Wolfe Kahn’s band – November 1932 at Hotel Pennsylvania, NYC. Kahn is in the center with baton; Shaw is over his left shoulder.,
Shaw left Kahn’s employ in mid-November of 1932, when Kahn disbanded for lack of work. Kahn very thoughtfully facilitated the transition of his band into the rehearsals for George Gershwin’s latest Broadway musical, Pardon My English. That show was not successful however, running only from January 20 to February 27, 1933. Nevertheless, with the rehearsals, out-of-town try-outs and the run of the show, it had provided Shaw with continuous employment for three months, and some valuable close musical encounters with Gershwin.
The money Shaw made working in commercial music in 1931 and 1932 enabled him to take a sabbatical from music in 1933, some time after the Gershwin show closed. My informed speculation about this is that he began this hiatus probably in the late spring of 1933. He was then not quite 23 years old, and a young woman, Marge Allen, who shared his adventurous spirit, was in love with him. Together, they moved into a cabin near Erwinna, Pennsylvania, and attempted to live off the land, after a fashion. Shaw chopped wood not only for heat and cooking at the cabin, but to sell. He also began writing, thinking he had a certain talent for that, probably because he had written a piece in 1929 for a contest, and had won first prize for it. Within a few months, he realized that he could not make a living chopping and selling wood, and could not write anything that in his opinion “lived.” He then returned to Manhattan, probably late in 1933 when the cold weather set in, and began practicing his instruments again. He also began making the rounds letting people in the music business know that he was back in town, and ready to work again.(6)
At some point, Shaw and Marge Allen (pictured above left) were married. They divorced in 1937.
Shaw’s musical activities in Manhattan in the years 1934 and 1935, and indeed well into 1936, can be best described as free-lance. He worked on radio, and on recordings, but did very little performing in public.The affiliation Shaw maintained intermittently through this period with bandleader Richard Himber formed the financial base he operated from. Shaw continued working with Himber until at least late April of 1936. Almost all of the work Shaw did with Himber was either on radio or recordings. By the time of the Imperial Theater Swing Concert in late May of 1936, Shaw was ready again for a change of musical scenery.
The musical scene in Manhattan in early 1936 was changing rapidly for dance bands. For many reasons, more bands, black and white, were including more jazz in their repertoires. (This was still a time of rigid racial segregation in bands.The black jazz pianist Teddy Wilson had only recently been hired as a part of Benny Goodman’s musical aggregation, but he did not play with the Goodman band. His participation was limited to playing with Goodman and drummer Gene Krupa as a trio separate from the band, and on occasion, as an intermission pianist.) The concept of “swing” music, or just “swing,” used as a noun, was gaining currency in the pop music marketplace. Soon, Goodman, advertised as “The King of Swing,” and his band would replace the Casa Loma band on the popular sponsored CBS radio show the Camel Caravan.
Benny Goodman’s identification with the clarinet was almost total, even in the early 1930s. True, Benny could and did on occasion play various saxophones. But his work with these instruments was almost completely done within the anonymous confines of Manhattan’s radio and recording studios. Goodman was widely recognized as the top performer in popular music on the clarinet in the early 1930s. Others, like Jimmy Dorsey and Art Shaw, were equally capable, but Goodman was the first call clarinet in those years in the New York radio and recording studios. More than anything else, what worked against Goodman as the first-call clarinetist in New York in the early and mid-1930s was his temperament. He began to clash with various radio and recording conductors over mostly insignificant issues, and gradually, they began to call him less. As they called him less, they called Jimmy Dorsey and Art Shaw more, and they were required to play clarinet more.
Above is a unique photo of both Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman working together in the Manhattan radio studios probably in early 1934. Curiously, at the moment this photo was taken, Goodman had an alto saxophone in his hands, with his clarinet lying next to him, while Shaw holds a clarinet. Among the other notable musicians in this photo: Mannie Klein at far left among the trumpeters in the back row; Charlie Margulis, is the trumpeter in the second chair to Klein’s left; the bassist is Arthur Bernstein; the guitarist, Carl Kress. The “Goodman” referred to in the caption as the conductor, was Al Goodman, no relation to Benny. (My thanks to Sonny McGown and David Fletcher for unearthing this photo, and to Loren Schoenberg for sharing it.)
By mid-1935, both Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey were leading their own bands full-time. Consequently, Art Shaw moved up the call list becoming not only the first call lead alto player, but the first call clarinetist as well, especially in situations where jazz was called for. Art took the clarinet seriously. There is no other way to take it. Trumpeter Chris Griffin, soon to be a part of Benny Goodman’s legendary trumpet trio with Ziggy Elman and Harry James remembered:“…around 1934 or so, I was living in the Chesterfield Hotel on 49th Street in Manhattan, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, which catered to musicians. The Plymouth Hotel was across the street. All the important musicians stayed at the Plymouth, like Mannie Klein and Artie Shaw. We could hear Shaw practicing three or four hours every day. (This was in addition to all of the work he was doing.) No wonder he got to be such a great player.” (7)
Art Shaw’s participation in the 1936 Imperial Theater Swing Concert may well make up a later post of its own here at swingandbeyond.com. For purposes of this post, it will suffice to say that Shaw’s presentation at that concert was well received.(8) Soon after the concert, he was signed to a contract by the Rockwell-O’Keefe booking agency, and the process of making Art Shaw into a bandleader began.
Shaw made it clear to the people at Rockwell-O’Keefe that he did not want to be placed in the position of competing with Benny Goodman, who by mid-1936 had been leading his band for two years. He wanted to do his own thing musically, which was very different from what Goodman was then doing. Consequently, Shaw’s first band was something of an expanded version of the group he had performed with at the Imperial Theater concert. It was built around a string quartet. Shaw worked very hard from the summer of 1936 into early 1937 to make this band a success. The music that band played was good and well-performed. (Shaw immediately proved to be an inspirational leader of his sidemen.) Shaw played very well. But it was not to be. By March of 1937, the Shaw string quartet band was history. The public’s verdict was clear: young dancers wanted loud, exciting, rhythmically intense music. Benny Goodman was giving it to them, and he was piling success on top of success doing it. Art Shaw was not giving it to them, and he was having little to no success.
Shaw could easily have gone back to doing lucrative work in the New York radio and recording studios after his first band failed. But something happened to him that he did not expect. He became infected with the highly contagious condition called leaderitis. He found that success or failure aside, he loved leading a band. He loved all of the musical aspects of bandleading: selecting the performers; selecting the music, arranging or supervising the writing of the arrangements his band would play, and most important of all, shaping the music in rehearsal. (Many musicians who worked in Shaw’s bands over the years likened his rehearsals to almost a spiritual experience.) It would take Shaw a bit more time to figure out how to do all of the things he loved as a bandleader, and also please the public.That process would take another year of touring, rehearsing, and performing in front of audiences.
So in March of 1937, Art Shaw formed a new band that had the exact same instrumentation as Benny Goodman’s band. In order to differentiate it from its predecessor, he called it Art Shaw and His New Music. He was now in competition with Benny Goodman, and not particularly happy about it.
“I Surrender, Dear”
The arrangement used for this recording was probably written by Jerry Gray.
Recorded by Art Shaw and His New Music for Brunswick on May 18, 1937 in New York.
Art(ie) Shaw, clarinet, directing: John Best, first trumpet; Malcolm Crain and Tommy Di Carlo, trumpets; George Arus, lead trombone; Harry Rodgers, trombone; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Art Masters, alto saxophone; Tony Pastor and Fred Petry, tenor saxophones; Les Burness, piano; Al Avola, guitar; Ben Ginsberg, bass; Cliff Leeman, drums. Solos: Art Shaw, clarinet; George Arus, trombone.
The music: Art Shaw’s string quartet band broke up on March 9, 1937. Between that date and the date two-plus months later when this recording was made, Shaw had to literally start another band from scratch. This meant auditioning and selecting musicians, putting together a new book of arrangements for the instrumentation of the new band (which was different from the old band), rehearsing, and trying to get a disparate group of musicians to sound like a unified band. Shaw, who had accused Vincent Lopez of being a “slave driver,” now became a most demanding leader himself, rehearsing the musicians rigorously (but never sadistically), carefully working through every musical detail. No one ever accused Shaw of being a slave driver, but the musicians who worked with him did recall him as being “particular,” “fussy,” “intent on getting exactly what he wanted.” Shaw’s rehearsals were intense, but not tense. He communicated clearly with his musicians, directed them to the musical objective he wanted to achieve, and got what he wanted from them without being obnoxious.
This recording of “I Surrender, Dear” shows that Shaw had rehearsed his musicians to a point where they played the music flawlessly. His own playing on clarinet was excellent. But the overall impression this performance leaves is one of stiffness, mostly emanating from the chugging rhythm of piano, guitar, bass and drums, with a vertical rhythmic approach utilized by the ensemble. (Curiously, Shaw’s own playing is not stiff.) In the early and mid-1930s, most dance bands emphasized the beat because it was assumed that dancers always needed a strong beat. Then various of the better bands slowly began to smooth-out their rhythm, causing their music to swing instead of bounce. It took Shaw most of 1937 to get this band to swing consistently.
(1) Shaw also performed “I Surrender, Dear” as a guest with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra on July 8, 1938 on Whiteman’s radio show, sponsored by Chesterfield Cigarettes. That performance was recorded.
(2) Art Shaw became Artie Shaw gradually. By the time he was a superstar in the world of swing in 1939, he was known universally as Artie Shaw.
(3) Lopez Speaks ..the Autobiography of Vincent Lopez (1960), 268.
(4) Richard M. Sudhalter, in his excellent book Lost Chords, White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945, (1999), 574-575, reports that Shaw negotiated a weekly salary of $500.00 with Roger Wolfe Kahn. This amount of money would not have been a lot to Kahn, whose musical career was being underwritten by his wealthy parents. But it would have been unheard-of among dance band musicians in 1932. The value of $500 in today’s (2019) money would be approximately $7,500.00. Presumably, Sudhalter got this information from Shaw, who provided many anecdotes to Sudhalter while he was writing his book. Shaw’s anecdotes, as related by him late in his life, almost always cast Shaw in a favorable, indeed often heroic light. They must therefore, in my opinion as a critical historian, be taken with a grain of salt unless and until corroborated by other evidence.
(5) Information about the 1932 Roger Wolfe Kahn film short, The Yacht Party (see below for a link to it), comes from Mark Cantor, one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet when it comes to vintage music on film. Here is Mark’s identification of the sidemen in that band in that film: Trumpets, left-to-right: probably Ruby Weinstein (although Angie Rattiner is a possibility), Charlie Teagarden, unidentified trumpet; two unidentified trombones, although it is possible that Phil Giardina or Leo Arnaud sits to the left; the trombone to the right does not look like Andy Russo; reeds, left-to-right: probably Max Farley, alto sax; note that while some, including Shaw, thought that this might be Babe Russin, the musician plays alto sax, and does not double on tenor, and that there is no record of Russin ever playing alto during this period; almost certainly Larry Binyon, tenor sax; Artie Shaw, alto sax, clarinet and baritone sax; two unidentified pianos, possibly Marlin Skyles to the left; possibly Joe Ross, viola, to far left; 2 unidentified violins, although it is quite possible that the violin to the right is Harry Urbant; Perry Botkin, guitar; probably Ward Ley, string and brass bass; almost certainly Chauncey Morehouse, drums. Note: this identification is slightly different from Vladimir Simosko’s in his Shaw discography. If anyone has more accurate identifications of these musicians, please post them below.
(6) Much of the information about Shaw’s activities as a musician in the early 1930s comes from Artie Shaw, a Musical Biography and Discography by Vladimir Simosko (2000).
(7) Sitting In With Chris Griffin, by Warren W. Vache’ (2005) 36-37.
(8) Vladimir Simosko in his biography/discography asserts at page 44 as follows: “Seldom noted was Artie Shaw’s return to the stage later in the (Imperial Theater Swing Concert) program with Bunny Berigan’s group, which included Joe Bushkin on piano and Eddie Condon on guitar, among others, although photos of this group onstage have been published in several sources.” I have indeed seen a couple of photos of Berigan performing at the Imperial Theater Swing Concert, but none with Artie Shaw. If any photos of Shaw and Berigan together at that concert exist, I would love to see them.
The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
As a bonus, here is a link the film The Yacht Party, in which a 22 year old Art Shaw appears, playing clarinet and alto saxophone with Roger Wolfe Kahn’s band in 1932.
For more about Shaw, check out this link: https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/10/13/the-chant-1939-artie-shaw-and-klezmer-music/
Here are some other links that fans of Artie Shaw’s great 1938-1939 band will enjoy: