Louis Armstrong: Lazy River


Up A Lazy River


Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra


Louis Armstrong, Volume 7: You're Driving Me Crazy (Columbia 48828)

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Louis Armstrong (trumpet, vocals),

Zilner Randolph (trumpet, arranger), Preston Jackson (trombone), Lester Boone (clarinet, alto sax), George James (clarinet, alto & soprano sax), Al Washington (clarinet, tenor sax), Charlie Alexander (piano), Mike McKendrick (banjo, guitar), John Lindsay (bass), Tubby Hall (drums)


Composed by Hoagy Carmichael & Sidney Arodin


Recorded: Chicago, November 3, 1931


Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

I don't know how "Up A Lazy River" ever made it past a music publishing editor. The melody line is dominated by awkward leaps and a very wide range. Trained voices have a hard time negotiating the tune (especially the younger singers who don't know the song from recordings), and it must be nearly impossible for a layman to sing or whistle the song accurately. Yet somehow this song became one of Hoagy Carmichael's biggest hits. I suspect Louis Armstrong deserves some of the credit. On this recording (which was a big hit for Louis), he uses the ultimate economy by reducing Carmichael's melody to a single (and oh-so-right) pitch. His opening trumpet solo hints at the melodic reduction to come, and when the saxes play the original melody, they sound terribly old-fashioned, and only Louis' vocal retorts make the passage listenable. In addition to reducing the melody's scope, Louis also changes the phrasing by omitting some words and barely stating others: Up...lazy river...where...th'old mill runs. We get a second vocal chorus on this one, which Louis starts with an arpeggiated line (just in case anyone thought that he couldn't sing the original melody) and melds into a scat solo. He seems pleasantly surprised by his vocal creation and he breaks out of a scat line with the spoken "Oh, you dog! Ha Ha. Boy, am I riffin' this evenin'? I hope somethin'." He scats a little more, references the song's title and then introduces pianist Charlie Alexander, whose break allows Louis to pick up his trumpet. The final solo isn't quite as majestic as others from this period, but it is powerful enough to bring the track to a satisfying close.

Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe

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