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Michael Pedicin: Compassion Joins Creativity

R.J. DeLuke By

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When I hear Trane play that sound haunts me in a positive way. That just got to my soul; to my core. —Michael Pedicin
Saxophonist Michael Pedicin, he of the rich tone and fertile imagination, is on a tear lately. His last three albums are remarkable, exhibiting both his catchy improvisational skill and simple beauty.

His 2011 album, Ballads... Searching for Peace (Jazz Hut Records) is that beauty on display and one of the best ballad albums to come a long in a while. Now, Pedicin has crafted an album of varied music, named for his view of how the world should be, Why Stop Now/Ubuntu (Ground Blue Records).

"I saw the world for the first time maybe two years ago," says Pedicin, who splits his time between a New Jersey home and a New York City apartment. "I'm one of those forever '60s people, always hoping for peace and better inter-connectedness in our world... The first visual depiction I had seen of the word 'ubuntu' was a missionary in Africa with an African tribal leader. Maybe 10 or 12 young boys were in a field playing, as any young guys would. This missionary had a huge cookie and he asked if he could give it to one of the boys. The leader said 'yes.' So he gave it to this young boy. The kid immediately bowed and nodded thank you. The he ran to his buddies and they all formed a circle. He broke a little piece off and passed it. They each took a little piece and continued to pass the cookie around until it was gone."

The boys enjoyed an equal serving and when the leader inquired, the word 'ubuntu' was used. Pedicin calls it "a humanist philosophy that we're all connected and we cannot thrive in isolation. We're all inter-connected, and what we have we need to share with others, as we need others to share with us."

That's a concept that appeals to the Philadelphia native, son and namesake of a successful soul/pop saxophonist who enjoyed a long career. Pedicin himself is enjoying a career that has him steeped in jazz education, but also playing and recording with excellent folks in the jazz world. Over the years, he's done stints with Maynard Ferguson and Dave Brubeck, among others, and even gone on to get a Ph.D. in psychology. He also spent countless hours in the studio, working with the songwriting and production team of Gamble and Huff, playing with the Spinners, the O'Jays, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergast, Stevie Wonder and more.

Pedicin kept pondering of ubuntu, "thinking if I would write a song maybe utilizing that concept. Or maybe have an album and call it that, or whatever... Even the 'Why Stop Now' idea is 'why stop now trying to promote this feeling of togetherness and that face that we're all in this world together. If we can only learn to live together and embrace each others' differences and unique characteristics, rather than abhor people's differences. What a better world this would be."

It came to fruition when Pedicin decided it was time for a new recording, but also one that featured his original compositions. The new album highlights his work, along with a couple by his longtime colleagues, guitarist Johnnie Valentino, and a couple by his idol John Coltrane. Four of the tunes are things he put to paper. But the title cut was different. In fact, there was no "Ubuntu" song until Pedicin was actually finished recording.

"I walked out of the room with my saxophone. Joe D'Onofrio [the engineer] said 'Come back in a minute and just play something.' I said 'What do you mean?' He said to play something. The way he put it was, 'Don't be fancy. Don't do a whole lot of technical stuff. Just go play some pretty music for a minute or two.' I went in and that's how that last piece came about. We ended up calling it 'Ubuntu.'"

Valentino penned the sweet ballad "Then I Saw You" and the ethereal "Newtown." Pedicin's sharp compositions are "Why Stop Now," "Downtown Found," "Trane Stop" and "27 Up."

"Johnnie Valentino is a prolific writer. If I call him and say I need three songs, within three days he has 10 songs for me to listen to. He's that kind of a guy. He's writes all the time. I write, most times, when I have a project in mind." He also found room to represent his biggest influence. "My love of, and infatuation with Coltrane, I wanted to get his in there. I picked two tunes of his that we don't hear very much of, other than when he did them. ["Song of the Underground Railroad" and "Tunji"] We treated 'Underground Railroad' different than he did it. We updated it and tried to get a little funk with it."

The album is another winner. But as far as playing live goes, Pedicin says it's his main regret. He plays steady gigs, but he'd like to get out and flex those muscles even more.


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