Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up. You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?
I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious. As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart. I give up all pretense of being distant. I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense. But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.” Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved. It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.
Here, however, are ten versions that move me.
January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra. Note the orchestral flourishes:
Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey. I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “. I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:
Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster? Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:
Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:
1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:
Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:
and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):
Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:
Nobody follows Louis. 1931:
and the majestic version from 1956:
A little tale of the powers of Surrender. In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot. Of course there were none. I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally. Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help. “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own. I am powerless without your help. Will you be merciful to me?” And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up. My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power. Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.
For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.
May your happiness increase!