Sidney Arodin

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Clarinetist Sidney Arodin is remembered mostly as the writer of the song "Lazy River," but the facts suggest the name "lazy writer" might be more appropriate. He was born Arnondrin, and the ditching of…
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Clarinetist Sidney Arodin is remembered mostly as the writer of the song "Lazy River," but the facts suggest the name "lazy writer" might be more appropriate. He was born Arnondrin, and the ditching of a few consonants here and there was typical of the man's casual approach toward the writing craft -- in fact, he might have as much as thrown ways some his most valuable songs. "Lazy River" was a tossed-off stream of composition that flowed well enough to be waded through by artists such as Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole, Brenda Lee, the Platters, and Gene Vincent, even though Arodin never recorded the tune himself. His musical career began in the early '20s in Louisiana, meaning he was part of the New Orleans jazz scene and style, but the songs he wrote extended way beyond that milieu into the realm of '50s pop and early rock. Maybe "Lazy River" should be identified as a good example of "rock and row."

At 15 years old, Arodin got his first clarinet and took lessons for only two months. This was the sum total of his "legit" musical training until years later when he taught himself music theory in one week after being fired from a band for not knowing how to read. From Arodin's 16th birthday onward he was rarely at home. His very first gig was apparently a Saturday night dance in his hometown of Westwego, LA. When a combo that had been hired from New Orleans arrived minus an ill clarinetist, Arodin ran barefoot on ground consisting of mud and oyster shells to grab his own licorice stick. From there he was hired as a musician on the Mississippi River boats, and eventually headed up to New York City where he worked with Johnny Stein's New Orleans Jazz Band beginning in 1922. In the mid-'20s he played with the young Jimmy Durante before returning to Louisiana to gig with the combos of one-armed Wingy Manone and unrelenting Sharkey Bonano, trumpeters both.

Arodin played with the New Orleans-style band of Louis Prima in the '30s, and continued collaborating with Manone in an updated version of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings group. From 1941 onward, Arodin's health began to fail and his musical appearances were few and far between. During his playing career, he cut quite a few sides with groups such as Johnnie Miller's New Orleans Frolickers, Albert Brunies & His Halfway House Orchestra, Monk Hazel & His Bienville Roof Orchestra, and the Jones & Collins Astoria Hot Eight, and was in some situations the only White bandmember. Some of his recording career is shrouded the obscurity that develops when labels issue material minus sideman credits. Slabs by the New Orleans Jazz Band on labels such as Banner go in the "are Arodin" column. Other missing credits sometimes doled out to Arodin actually belong to Charlie Cordella, a strange mistake since the two clarinetists have stylistic differences as wide as Lake Ponchatrain. Arodin got in on the "little instrument" concept years ahead of avant-garde players such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago by playing a toy instrument known as a "tonette" on the record "Sizzling the Blues," an example of the original thinking that makes him such a unique artist.

Needless to say, Arodin did well from the royalties of "Lazy River," but could have done much better. He sometimes shares credit with the great songwriter Hoagy Carmichael for this song. There are also plenty of recordings where it is Carmichael that gets all the credit, bolstering speculation concerning other standard songs that Arodin claimed to have written in the early days, only to sell the rights away for a pittance, sometimes for as little as a bottle of wine. Any song mentioning rivers is suspect, as this was an Arodin preoccupation, no doubt dating back to his early years in the music business. Almost every ditty he is credited with writing has something to do with the subject. This includes "Drifting on a River," based on the same chord progression as "Lazy River," apparently just an exercise used by Arodin as a warm-up on the clarinet. "Lazy River" consists of this progression slowed down somewhat, with a set of lyrics that Arodin may have found along a riverbank and Carmichael pushed a bit further downstream.