The benefits of playing “Up A Lazy River” on piano

Hey Improvisers!

Have you ever wondered how some rock, pop, and jazz musicians play with such a relaxed, natural-sounding rhythm?

With many of them, especially those who developed their sound in the 1960s, it’s because they grew up listening to and playing the classic songs of the 1930s and 1940s. These songs had catchy melodies, beautiful chord progressions that sometimes hinted at the blues, and a compelling swing rhythm underneath it all.

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Up A Lazy River” is one such song.

We don’t hear about “Lazy River” much anymore, but from the early 1930s until the early 1970s it was heard everywhere. (And if you’ve ever been to a water park that features a ride called something like The Lazy River or The Lazy Crazy River, you can probably guess where that name came from!)

The Beatles played “Lazy River” in their early days, and Paul McCartney fondly recalled hearing John Lennon sing it during their live sets. The song’s relaxed, “floating” feeling later resurfaced in such iconic Lennon compositions such as “Imagine” and “Woman.” (They use straight 8ths, but the euphoric feeling is similar.)

Perhaps the most influential recording of “Lazy River” comes from Louis Armstrong, in 1933. This recording has early foreshadowings of bebop and has influenced whole generations of jazz musicians:

Louis Armstrong: Up A Lazy River

Here’s my solo piano rendition of the tune, which is close to my heart because I heard my dad play it on a daily basis for about 17 years!

Journey Through The Real Book #208

Whatever style of music you play, you’ll play it better once you immerse yourself in the Armstrong recording of “Lazy River” and then spend some time playing it yourself. Just like The Beatles did.

Enjoy the journey, and “Let the music flow!”


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