He just woke up. So what if it's 12:30 in the afternoon. On a Tuesday. And he didn't have a gig the night before. These are the kind of hours saxophonist John Lurie usually keeps. In fact, it's because of these hours that he became a sax player in the first place.
You see, when he was in high school, in Worcester, Mass., Lurie started staying up late at night. But when you're 15, 17, you can't really hang out in clubs, right? So he'd spend the night just walking around.
One night, when he was walking around, he came across this organic gardener, who also stayed up late at night, gardening.
"He said that he just saw an angel," recalls Lurie, his voice still a little sleepy and kind of scratchy. "Then he gave me a bicycle and a tenor sax. And I would go out in the woods and play tenor sax all night while the rest of Worcester, Massachusetts, was sleeping."
Lurie moved to New York City in 1974, did this and that for a couple of years, then split. He returned in 1977. "For good," he says. Then pauses. "For good? God, I'd like to leave now."
Lurie often questions himself like that. He prefaces statements with "I guess," or "I think," or "maybe." Like when he's told that he has a reputation for being "wild."
First he says: "I don't know what 'wild' is."
Then he says: "I guess that's okay. But once you start defining what 'wild' is, you aren't wild anymore."
About 10 years ago, Lurie put together an eclectic jazz ensemble and named it the Lounge Lizards. They've made a handful of records, the latest, "Voice of Chunk," receiving rave reviews.
However, Lurie is so disenchanted with the music industry that he pressed the album himself. And canned the idea of selling it at record stores. Instead, he made campy commercials that aired on late-night TV and included a toll-free number so viewers could order copies. (The record is still available by mail order: Lounge Lizards, Box 1740, New York, N.Y. 10009.) )
"I felt I made an important album," he says, "and I wanted to give people the opportunity to listen to it."
But, he adds, "it didn't really work. I think people weren't ready to buy music like that. It wasn't the Top Ten hits of two decades ago."
Lurie was once a painter, and a few years back used one of his works on the cover of a Lounge Lizards album. He still has the original, which was painted on a board he found in the street, but it's cracking.
He acts in offbeat films, such as Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise" and "Down by Law" and David Lynch's "Wild at Heart." He's going to be in the new Woody Allen film, but he doesn't know what he'll be doing. "They never tell you, you know," he grumbles.
But his true passion is making cool jazz.
"There are times," he says of the sometimes tedious hours of practice, "that you feel like you're lifting a car... .
"Then," he purrs, "there are times when it's like stepping into this warm glow and you could live there forever."
John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards are performing at the Barns of Wolf Trap tomorrow night at 8. Tickets are $16 and available at TicketCenter. For information call 202-432-0200.
CHRISTMAS COLLAGE The Washington Shakespeare Company didn't want to put on another traditional holiday production. It wanted to do something a little different. And company member Brian Desmond had an idea: Take a collection of short stories, plays and poems, weave them together with a selection of favorite Christmas carols and create a theatrical melange of holiday spirit.
"We wanted to combine classical theater with classical writers," says Desmond. "The challenge was doing it coherently. Making it flow."
"Yule Tidings!" is a compilation of 30 works by 27 authors, from Chekov to e.e. cummings. Many are obscure pieces that Desmond found in the rare-books section of the Library of Congress. And there are some unusual choices, such as a work by Dostoevski, which Desmond juxtaposed with a short story by Hans Christian Andersen.
Then there is what Desmond calls a "nativity medley," in which a series of poems and carols tells the story of the birth of Jesus. It begins with T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi," and, says Desmond, "the Three Wise Men speak the poem like they are telling the audience their story, their plight, their travel."
This is followed by a shepherd reciting a poem by Yeats, titled "Magi," and another answering with a poem by Emily Dickinson. The story continues with a few carols, the Carl Sandburg poem "Star Silver" and Yeats's "Mother of God." The scene closes with Thornton Wilder's five-minute play "The Flight to Egypt."
The costumes reflect the periods and settings of the pieces recited, rather than Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago. And the sets are relatively simple, because, says Desmond, "the language is simply stunning. With writers like this, we could never duplicate physically what they say with their words."
"Yule Tidings!" will be presented Wednesday through Saturday nights at 8 and Saturday afternoons at 3, beginning this Wednesday through Dec. 22, at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington. Tickets are $7 to $10. For information call 703-739-9886.
SHAKE YOUR TAIL FEATHERS What a great week to be a kid. Both Walt Disney's World on Ice and Sesame Street Live's "Silly Dancing" are in town. Everyone, from Mickey Mouse to Cookie Monster, is here, ready to play.
High-skating adventures are what the Disney characters embark on when that troublesome yet lovable trio, Huey, Dewey and Louie, mysteriously disappear while fooling around with their Uncle Scrooge's time machine.
With the help of Goofy, Pluto, Daisy and Donald, Uncle Scrooge sets out to find his nephews. The time machine takes them to far-out places such as ancient Egypt, the South Seas and outer space. Along the way, they encounter friendly folks such as Ariel, the Little Mermaid, and "The Jungle Book's" big blue Baloo.
They sing Disney favorites as well as contemporary tunes. They dance and goof around. They even run into the Big Bad Wolf. He's now an Elvis impersonator and swivels his hips just like the King.
At 123 Sesame Street, "we get the kids to shake their tail feathers, stomp their feet, yell and jump," says Big Bird of the audience-participatory production "Silly Dancing." "I try to get the kids up and see how silly they are! I mean, you can't do silly dancing without a silly audience!"
Silly dancing is what Big Bird came up with when he couldn't decide whether to have a silly show or a dancing show. Grover and Cookie Monster and Bert and Ernie strut their stuff, from a little jitterbug and the "Alphabet Polka" to twisting the night away. And believe it or not, with the aid of the swooning girl grouch, Grundgetta, they get ol' Oscar the Grouch out of that beat-up, smelly, grimy trash can for some down-and-dirty tango.
When Bert sings a song to the tune of the Trogg's "Wild Thing," the kids jam on some air guitar. And when the characters run out into the audience, everyone gets even sillier. "The kids really get an aerobic workout, says Big Bird. "And so do we."
If you're a grownup, don't worry -- you won't be left out. Big Bird assures that the dialogue is not geared just for small folk. "There's a lot adults can appreciate," he says.
Walt Disney's World on Ice will be presented Tuesday through Sunday at the Washington Convention Center. Tickets are $9 to $12.50 and available at Ticketron. For information call 703-790-2540.
Sesame Street Live will present "Silly Dancing" Wednesday through Saturday at George Mason University's Patriot Center. Tickets are $7 to $11 and available at TicketCenter. For information call 202-432-0200.