Born: July 29, 1947 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
During a prolific career that spans more than four decades, tenor saxophone master Michael Pedicin has toured with such jazz greats as Maynard Ferguson, Dave Brubeck, Stanley Clarke, and Pat Martino, as well as R&B, rock, and pop icons Stevie Wonder, the O’Jays, David Bowie, and Lou Rawls. And he even played behind Frank Sinatra a few times. He’s recorded 10 albums under his own name since 1980 and considers the tenth one, Ballads…searching for peace, just released on the Jazz Hut label, to be his crowning achievement.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been able to proudly listen to one of my own CDs until this ballads album,” the saxophonist says.
Ballads…searching for peace was inspired in part by Pedicin’s main musical hero, the late, great John Coltrane, although it does not contain any of the tunes Coltrane recorded on his classic 1962 Impulse! album titled Ballads. Pedicin’s disc does, however, include a lovely rendition of McCoy Tyner’s “Searching for Peace,” which the former Coltrane pianist first recorded for Blue Note in 1967.
“From the time Trane did that Ballads album,” Pedicin explains, “I’ve always wanted to do a ballads album when I felt ready to do it. There are people who have told me over the years that they especially enjoy my ballad playing. I finally did it.”
“I have always listened to Trane’s Ballads, as well as everything else that he played,” he adds. “I play many of his ballads when I perform live. Other guys that I love and respect have been great ballad players. I think of Mike Brecker’s Nearness of You: The Ballad Book.”
Ballads…searching for peace opens with Pedicin’s impassioned reading of “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” an intensely sad song that has been recorded by many, including Coltrane, since Gene De Paul and Don Raye wrote it in 1941. It has become something of a signature song for Pedicin, who first recorded it in 1992 on an album of the same title. His new tour de force version begins and ends with cadenzas that display his stunning command of multiphonics in which he plays two or more notes simultaneously.
“I’ve been playing that tune for a long time,” the saxophonist says of “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” “It has always been one of my most requested songs.”
Rounding out the program on Ballads…searching for peace are the Hank Mobley bossa nova “Home at Last,” Wayne Shorter’s “Virgo,” Pedicin’s own “Tell Me,” and “Blame It on Your Heart” and “Few Moments,” both by guitarist John Valentino.
Originally from Philadelphia, Valentino now lives in Southern California, where he works as a musician, composer, and sound designer, but still frequently performs and records with Pedicin. Veteran Barry Miles and relative newcomer Dean Schneider (who is also a member of Pedicin’s other group, the Brubeck Project) take turns at the piano. Bassist Andy Lalasis and drummer Bob Shomo both live near the leader in the New York City metro area.
Michael Pedicin Jr. is a second-generation saxophonist. He was born on July 29, 1947, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and raised in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Both towns are suburbs of Philadelphia. His dad, alto saxophonist and singer Mike Pedicin, was an extremely popular entertainer and bandleader in the Philadelphia area for more than six decades until his retirement 13 years ago at age 80. Now 93, he remains in good health and drives his convertible around town every day, according to his son.
“I idolized my dad as a saxophonist,” Pedicin Jr. says. “I used to walk around with a saxophone strap around my neck before I could even play a C scale. I wanted to be like him and look like him. He was a matinee-idol-looking guy. He was really high-energy on stage, threw the saxophone around, did ‘Harlem Nocturne’ and ‘April in Paris,’ and had audiences screaming.”
(A note on the family name: Michael Jr.’s Italian grandfather, Michele Pedicino, was assigned the name “Pedicine” by Ellis Island officials. Some years later, when Michael Sr., at the age of 12, was a contestant on a local talent show, The Children’s Hour, the host advised the boy to change his name to “Pedicin.” Pedicin it has been ever since.)
Mike Pedicin Sr. and his combo worked nightly for decades around Philadelphia. He recorded prolifically for RCA Victor, 20th Century, ABC-Paramount, Federal, and other labels during the 1950s and early ’60s, yet he seldom toured. When his 1957 Cameo recording of “Shake a Hand” became a No. 1 hit, he turned down offers to perform outside of Philadelphia. “I’m booked for the next two years,” he explained at the time. Michael Jr. received few pointers from his father. “He didn’t want to teach me,” he says. “He wanted to be my dad.”
When Michael Jr. was 13, his father took him to the Harlem Club in Atlantic City to hear and meet the bluesy jazz saxophonist Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson. Then he heard records by John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, and his life suddenly had a purpose. “I then knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he says. “Play the saxophone.”
Michael Jr. would later see and shake Coltrane’s hand at Pep’s in Philadelphia. “He was a gentle soul,” Michael Jr. recalls. He also studied theory with guitarist Dennis Sandole and saxophone with Philadelphia Orchestra clarinetist and classical saxophone soloist Mike Guerra, both of whom had once taught Coltrane, as well as with onetime Woody Herman saxophonist Buddy Savitt. While attending Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, where he majored in composition, he began competing��and winning��at collegiate jazz festivals around the country. Down Beat magazine raved about his playing on alto saxophone, and Stan Kenton, a judge at many of the festivals, offered him a job.
“Kenton pursued me for several years to go with his band,” Pedicin recalls. “I was in school, and I didn’t want to give up my education.”
Pedicin, who switched from alto to tenor as his main instrument at age 20, earned a living throughout the 1970s as a member of the horn section at Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios, where he worked for producers Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell, playing on countless sessions by such artists as the Spinners, O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and Lou Rawls. Don Renaldo, the contractor for the sessions, was kind enough to give Pedicin leaves of absence to go on the road with Maynard Ferguson, the O’Jays, Rawls, Stevie Wonder, and David Bowie.
The saxophonist’s first album, simply titled Michael Pedicin Jr., was released in 1980 on Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label. Although the LP garnered little attention at the time, a track from it titled “You,” featuring Pedicin on alto and vocals by the Jones Girls, became a hit in 1982 on New York City R&B station WRKS and resurfaced five years later in the Philippines .
During much of the ’80s, Pedicin juggled teaching duties at Philadelphia’s Temple University and two years of touring with Dave Brubeck (with whom he recorded one album for the East World Jazz label in Japan) while working for five casinos in Atlantic City, where he hired orchestras for the show rooms and sometimes played behind singers such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
“I was driven in those days,” he admits. “I was running all over the place, not sleeping, working too hard. I felt like my wife and children were forgetting who I was. I realized that I needed to realign my priorities��and did.”
Putting Atlantic City behind him gave Pedicin more time to focus on playing straight-ahead jazz. Besides leading his own quintet and the recently formed Brubeck Project (which released its debut CD in early 2011 on Jazz Hut), he toured from 2003 and 2006 with Pat Martino and in early 2011 with the Dave Brubeck Quartet in which son Darius Brubeck filled in for his ailing father. Pedicin continued his education, however, and in 2000 earned a Ph.D in psychology from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Pedicin has been a professor of music at Richard Stockton College in Galloway, New Jersey, since 2008 and recently launched the school’s jazz studies program. He also has a private psychology practice specializing in helping “creative people get through life in a non-artist-friendly society.” Playing jazz, however, remains his primary passion.
“I would never want to give up counseling, but the thing that’s deepest and most at the core of me is the tenor saxophone,” he says. “I will never put my saxophone down until I can’t play anymore.” •
Michael Pedicin: Ballads. . . searching for peace (The Jazz Hut Records) Street Date: October 18, 2011
Web Site: www.michaelpedicin.com
Media Contact: Terri Hinte 510-234-8781 firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Pedicin Jr. seems more dedicated to his art than to radioplay. --Downbeat Magazine
Pedicin stretches on tenor in a Breckeresque fashion. --Downbeat Magazine
Willing to teach:
Advanced students only.
Saxophone instructor at University of the Arts, 1974-2000. Senior lecturer at University of the Arts, jazz studies. Director of jazz studies, Temple University, 1981-1988. Currently associate professor of music/coordinator of jazz studies.....Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
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