Lounge Lizards' John Lurie

Though the jazzy, New York avant-garde pop-rock group the Lounge Lizards have endured numerous personnel changes, leader John Lurie has always been present on saxophone and sometimes vocals.

Lurie was born Dec. 14, 1952, in Minneapolis. The original Lounge Lizards — Lurie, his pianist brother Evan Lurie, guitarist Arto Lindsay, drummer Anton Fier and bassist Steve Piccolo — all migrated to New York from various parts of the United States.

The Lounge Lizards came together for what was supposed to be a one-time-only gig to play songs Lurie was writing for a film. But their punk-influenced lounge act, labeled "fake jazz," became popular and the band carried on.

The original Lizards lineup appeared only on their critically acclaimed, eponymous debut in 1981. It featured "Do the Wrong Thing" and "I Remember Coney Island." Then Piccolo departed, Lindsay left to form Ambitious Lovers and Fier quit to found the Golden Palominos. Lurie added more jazz-oriented players; toured Europe, where the band gained a fanbase; and issued Live at the Drunken Boat (1983). In 1985 ROIR Records issued a cassette of the original Lizards configuration, Live 79/81 ROIR Sessions.

Lurie performed solo at Carnegie Hall in 1980 and was a featured soloist with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra in 1982.

Island Records inked a deal with the Lounge Lizards in 1986. Lurie sang for the first time on record on No Pain for Cakes, featuring cuts such as the title track, "Tango #3, Determination for Rosa Parks," and "My Trip to Ireland."

But Lurie soon became disenchanted with the record company and released the Lizards' Voice of Chunk via mail order in 1989 on his own Lagarto Label. The Lizards went on hiatus after the record company lost money.

In the early '90s Lurie formed a new Lizards roster without his brother. The lineup included bassist and future Elysian Fields member Oren Bloedow, percussionist Billy Martin, and keyboard player John Medeski of Medeski, Martin and Wood. The Lizards continued to gig and issued two live albums recorded in Berlin. In 1984 the Lounge Lizards recorded Fusion with Teo Macero and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1991 Lurie composed for the Kronos Quartet, and the following year he composed and performed for the Balanescu Quartet. He also toured Europe with the John Lurie National Orchestra.

Lurie also is known for composing soundtracks for movies by director Jim Jarmusch, including "Stranger Than Paradise," "Down by Law" and "Mystery Train." He was nominated for a Grammy for his soundtrack to "Get Shorty."

Lurie acted in the first two of those films, as well as in David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" and Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ." His Independent Film Channel series "Fishing With John" featured Lurie taking guests such as Tom Waits on exotic trips.

Though Lurie's Lizards compositions started out jazzy, they eventually encompassed soul, Indian and African musical elements. Last year, on Lurie's Strange and Beautiful Music label, the Lizards issued Queen of All Ears, which featured Evan and included "The First and Royal Queen" (RealAudio excerpt). The album title came from the liner notes to Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, which included the ambiguous line: "And on he walked until after crowning Ethel the dog the only Queen of Ears."

The Lounge Lizards had planned to mark 20 years as a band last month with 14 shows at New York's Knitting Factory. The gigs were canceled, though, and the Lizards are scheduling anniversary dates at another venue.

Other birthdays on Tuesday: Frank Allen (Searchers), 56; Jackie McAuley (Them), 53; Joyce Elaine Vincent-Wilson (Tony Orlando & Dawn), 53; Cliff Williams (AC/DC), 50; Mike Scott, 41; Peter "Spider" Stacy (Pogues), 41; Tim Gaines (Stryper), 36; Brian Dalyrimple (Soul for Real), 24; Johnny Moore (Drifters), 1934–1998; and Charlie Rich, 1932–1995.