Welcome to Philadelphia Jazz Project
Sep 12, 2015
In the winter of 2014, PJP in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art commissioned Philadelphia-based pianist and educator, Tom Lawton to compose music inspired by the work of Philadelphia-born and bred, modern art pioneer, Man Ray. Lawton, who teaches music at Temple University, Bucks County Community College and UArts spent weeks looking at Man Ray’s works and reviewing information from the museum’s collection, viewing videos and films and reading books and other publications and crafted an intriguing musical work. On Friday, October 9th, at 5:00pm, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art's - Art After 5 program, he will debut this work with his sextet featuring Diane Monroe - Violin, Ben Schachter - Tenor Sax, John Swana - Trombone, Lee Smith - Bass, Dan Monaghan - Drums.
We spoke with Lawton about this project and his work.
PJP: What would you say is intriguing about Man Ray for you?
Tom Lawton: I'm most intrigued by his eclecticism, his working in many genres while still putting his own stamp on everything, and his simultaneous embrace of traditional discipline with the freedom and impulse to depart from it.
PJP: Briefly describe your musical direction?
Tom Lawton: Hopefully creatively eclectic. As a player I like to play something different each time, which is why straight-ahead standards are still challenging and fun. For composing, I used to think about playing and write forms that would generate certain types of playing. Now I compose first and then have to figure out how to play it and incorporate improvisation. Some of the forms create a mood and vibe and the improv is freer. Some tunes have a recurring cycle of chords like normal tunes but the chords are less orthodox. some are almost orthodox with a few quirks. The Le Beau Temps movement is more like a tone poem with written and improvised material constantly mixed until the groove section.
PJP: What and whom are pivotal musical influences on your creative approach?
Tom Lawton: Anything and everyone. All composers/improvisers I admire have honed their own language and gotten bands to be able to play them. My favorites are Charlie Parker, Larry McKenna, Dave Douglas, Cecil Taylor, Monk, Vijay Iyer, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Coleman, Ornette Coleman, Andy Milne. Classically: Bach, Messiaen, Ligeti.
PJP: How do you manage the task of creating and encouraging fresh, new, forward moving musical ideas, while simultaneously exploring, celebrating and documenting the past?
Tom Lawton: Mostly by not trying too hard to be new. My theory is that everything in some form or another has been done and the only way to be an individual is to honor your inner honest voice. We do this by how we consolidate our diverse influences. I always start from a germinal organic idea. the real work is fleshing out, going through a semi-conscious trial and error process, and ideally, returning to the organic sense of flow. Audiences hopefully will tune into the basics: rhythmic feeling, melodic motifs, band interactions.
PJP: When listening to your music, what advice would you give to audiences to aide with greater understanding and enjoyment? Why Jazz? When you could be doing anything else, why Jazz?
Tom Lawton: I guess we're using the word jazz again. The element of improv, the things that can happen on a dime in a group, the joy and the inherent risks in not knowing how something will come out is a way of life. (Not in risky behaviors, but in artistic exploration).
Tom Lawton's Man Ray Jazz Suite
Friday, October 9th, 5:00pm
Philadelphia Museum of Art
2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130
This concert is a Pretzel Logic Series Event: A Philadelphia Jazz Project series in collaboration with local venues investigating what it means to be a Philadelphian from historical figures and fictional characters, to just plain ole folk. From magical moments to frightful urban legends, the Pretzel Logic series will unravel and explore the multi-faceted curves and intriguing twists and turns of the Philly state of mind.