Twenty-five years ago, Evan Lurie was a Lounge Lizard who haunted New York City night spots and European jazz festivals. Today he’s the musical tour guide for Pablo the penguin, Tasha the hippo, Tyrone the moose and the other stars of Nickelodeon’s hit animated skein “The Backyardigans.”
Yes, it’s been a long, strange musical journey for Lurie in his evolution from pianist for the Lounge Lizards, the jazz fusion outfit led by his older brother, John Lurie (better known in showbiz circles as the lanky, enigmatic star of such Jim Jarmusch pics as “Stranger Than Paradise” and “Down by Law”) to becoming one of Nickelodeon’s resident tunesmiths.
(To get a sense of the Lounge Lizards’ strange and beautiful music, think Eric Dolphy meets Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa at an after-hours jam session with Little Walter, George Gershwin, Nino Rota and King Sunny Ade. If that sounds good to you, check out the vid clips posted below.)
But the music he pens for “Backyardigans” is no less satisfying than the work he did with the Lizards or the scores he periodically composes for grown-up movies. Given the unusual conceit of “Backyardigans” — each episode is built around a different style of music — Lurie sits down to work each day secure in the knowledge that he’s doing his part to expose his listeners to the aural wonders of the world.
“Backyardigans” has done episodes around everything from calypso to cumbia themes, from juju to zydeco to Irish jigs and Southern gospel. The show has become one of Nick Jr.’s hottest properties, and it’s getting a big push with this week’s preem of its first hourlong primetime spesh, “Super Secret Super Spy.” It’s a 007 spy-thriller intrigue, Nickelodeon-style, anchored by a jazzy-pop number, “The Lady in Pink,” warbled by Cyndi Lauper. (Click here for a vid clip, and check out the behind-the-scenes featurette on “Backyardigans” on the same page for a soundbite from Lurie.)
“It really feels like an accomplishment. I hope I’m expanding the musical vocabulary of a generation,” says Lurie. “We go for styles of music they may never hear anywhere else.”