Pianist Tom Lawton didn’t know much about Man Ray when the opportunity came his way to compose a suite of music inspired by the eclectic visual artist. But a crash course soon made Lawton realize that he had more in common with the Dada innovator than he’d expected.
“I’d seen one or two photos through the years, but I really had to start researching Man Ray from the ground up because I knew very little about him,” Lawton admits. “He turned out to be a fascinating character who I related to in a lot of ways. He worked in so many genres and was at one and the same time a fine artist and did other kinds of work in artistic ways for money, so he resembled a working jazz musician in that sense.”
It’s certainly a description that fits with Lawton’s career. His performance of the “Man Ray Jazz Suite” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday evening will be a rare occasion to see the pianist perform as a leader. More often, he’s either busy teaching – he’s on the faculty of both Temple and UArts – or working as a sideman for a host of local jazz singers and musicians, from straightahead gigs with saxophonist Larry McKenna to avant-garde outings with Bobby Zankel’s Warriors of the Wonderful Sound big band.