In 2014, saxophonist Michael Pedicin wrote about music in a brilliant article in Downbeat called “The Improviser as Musical Philosopher,” writing, “No one thrives alone. We are all interconnected . . . Who we are is what we play.” Putting the emphasis on the “we,” Pedicin wrote, “. . .we do not play alone; we play with others.” It’s no wonder that this composer and improviser has been so drawn to John Coltrane all his life, as many instrumentalists are, if only for Trane’s facility on his horn. But Pedicin recognized a long time ago that the art of playing music, of improvising, has a deep heritage that Trane had tapped into in his young life. Pedicin arrived at this recognition through the long and winding road and interplay of playing jazz with his education in medicine and cognitive psychology, and just living a life adapting to the vagaries of the music business and helping others through his private practice as a psychologist.
In his essay, Pedicin embellished on a South African belief system called ubuntu and rightly compared it to the dynamics of collective improvisation and the formation of spontaneous communities. Ubuntu says, “I am because you are,” that one’s humanity is affirmed through recognition of the other in all their uniqueness and difference. In improvisation, rules may be abandoned if they are limiting, and the band is always moving with each other and always engaged in a process of dialogue.
These are understandings learned from being involved in the act of experiencing live music early on. When his very supportive father, early rock and roll pioneer Mike Pedicin, would drop his young son off to hear saxophonist Willis “Gator Tail” Jackson at Club Harlem on famous Kentucky Avenue in Atlantic City when he was 15 years old and leave him there (protectively overseen by a bartender the senior Pedicin knew well) while he did a gig in the same town, both father, son, and the clientele of Club Harlem trusted in the power of the music, crossing racial and cultural boundaries to appreciate the interconnectedness of jazz and blues.
Michael Pedicin went to Philadelphia Music Academy (PMA), a strictly European classical institution, which eventually became the University of the Arts; expanding its vision to jazz and more contemporary pursuits well after Pedicin had graduated. Of course, they hired him later as an educator, teaching at University of the Arts from1976 to 1981. While at PMA, Pedicin studied with the premier music theory coach of Pat Martino and John Coltrane, and many of the city’s serious jazz players—Dennis Sandole. Clarinetist Michael Guerra and saxophonist Buddy Savitt were other mentors that brought Pedicin to the point that he switched from alto to tenor saxophone and almost instantly became a sought-after session player in the 1970s with Sigma Sound Studios, working with producers Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell on hundreds of sessions with the Spinners, the O’Jays, Lou Rawls (in between touring with Maynard Ferguson), Stevie Wonder, and David Bowie.
Gamble and Huff were so impressed with Pedicin that he released his first album Michael Pedicin Jr. on the impressive Philadelphia International label in 1980. One track from the album called “You” became a hit single in 1982, but the project didn’t get the promotion it needed, so Pedicin began a whirlwind of activities inside and outside of music, wearing many hats, running himself ragged. The beginning of gambling in Atlantic City, NJ, drew many musicians seeking to work the casinos, but no one had the good fortune to land on top with his own company Bayshore Music, which coordinated entertainment for TropWorld, Trump Castle, Sands, Playboy and the Claridge. Soon Pedicin was contracting musicians for orchestras at five hotel casinos, playing as sideman to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, teaching, and getting further and further away from his true love—playing jazz. So, he took the first escape hatch that popped up, touring with jazz pianist Dave Brubeck from 1982 to 1984 and later with jazz guitarist Pat Martino from 2003 to 2005.
Jazz reviewer Tom Storer was at the New Morning club in Paris to see Pat Martino in 2003 and was totally blown away by the synchronicity of Martino’s guitar and Pedicin’s saxophone, writing they were “smoking . . . he played with a full and gutsy tenor sound; this is a man with lung power. And he was just wailing—soloing after Pat Martino in full flight didn’t phase him . . . [Pedicin] was devoid of cliché and mannerisms, an authentic player of his own s***. Highest praise to this guy.”
A Los Angeles Times review in 2004 of the Pat Martino Quintet at the Jazz Bakery took note that Pedicin “responded to Martino’s musical challenges with brawny-toned, aggressively virtuosic solos deeply influenced by John Coltrane.”
It truly is amazing that this sensitive reed player could expertly augment his high-profile tours, recording projects of his own as a leader, and teaching at Temple University as the first director of jazz studies and as a coordinator of Jazz Studies while an Artist in Residence at Stockton University, with a busy psychological practice counseling individuals and families.
His albums, currently he has 14, have all paid tribute to Coltrane and to Michael Brecker, another Philly saxophonist, in some way, but as jazz reviewer Dan Bilawsky of All About Jazz iterated, “Michael Pedicin is not a John Coltrane clone. And, conviction, rather than flat out imitation, seems to be the tie that binds Pedicin to his hero.”
Seeming to echo the saxophonist’s finely tuned sense of ubuntu, in 2008 writer A. D. Amorosi for the Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Pedicin, “I’ve had a lifetime to formulate what I’m talking about. You can tell what I’m feeling when I play, especially a ballad. [Coltrane’s] never far away from everything I do. There’s not ever a day when I don’t listen to ‘Trane. I feel I’m being energized by his soul.”
Bilawsky corroborated this feeling giving Pedicin’s 2012 album Live @ the Loft a glowing review. “. . . Pedicin still seems most genuine when placed in quiet settings. “Say It (Over and Over Again)” and “I Want to Talk About You” give pause to admire his sensitivity and straight-to-the-heart delivery, and the sound of his saxophone on these numbers lingers in the ears long after this excellent [album] has come to a close…His lush tenor takes you on journeys worth getting lost in.”
Michael Pedicin is getting ready to release his 15th album Just the Three of Us that he recorded with pianist Jim Ridl and bassist Dean Johnson, two bandmates that shift and bend with Pedicin’s every musical thought, as he instantly reciprocates. Just beautiful to hear. Their collective improvisation embodies ubuntu in that they are always and empathically engaged in dialogue from the first note to the last.
After all his quotidian experiences: listening, playing, contracting, teaching, earning his doctorate, counseling, it seems that now, Michael Pedicin. has arrived at a place he always knew existed and where he always wanted to be—making music that speaks an awareness of shared human subjectivity, and the knowledge that everyone has a moral obligation to support those around them.
Michael Pedicin’s biography and abbreviated versions are available for download in the Electronic Press Kit (EPK).