Pedicin appears at the Exit Zero Jazz Festival with his working quintet featuring pianist Frank Strauss, bassist Mike Boone, drummer Anwar Marshall and longtime collaborator, guitarist-composer Johnnie Valentino. Together they explore everything from searing Trane-inspired flights to relaxing ballads and urgent funk, with Pedicin’s sax sound leading the way. Cape May Convention Hall / It’s a Breeze & Hawk Haven Stage Stage, Saturday, April 22 at noon.

Jazz is an art form in which second and third acts abound, and tenor saxophonist Michael Pedicin is making the most of his late-career creative surge. A passionately soulful improviser, the New York City-based Pedicin has released a series of scintillating sessions in the past six years on his GroundBlue label, reconfirms his status as a top-tier post-bopper distinguished by rare poise and maturity. Why Stop Now. . . Ubuntu is an album marked by Pedicin’s searing lyricism and pleasingly pliable tone. While technically accomplished, his music reflects his singular career path, a circuitous creative journey that wends through Philadelphia’s modern jazz scene in the 1960s and sidesteps into an R&B phase with Philadelphia Sound hit-makers Gamble and Huff. Along the way he spent two years with Dave Brubeck, founded Temple University’s jazz studies program, and detoured through several med school stints that culminated in Pedicin earning a doctorate in psychology. He brings all that experience to bear on Why Stop Now. . . Ubuntu, the latest riveting dispatch from a player who knows how to make the most out of every note.

The album opens with the surging title track, a gracefully navigated harmonic steeplechase that answers the rhetorical question in its title with a resounding affirmative. If the album has an emotional touchstone, it’s John Coltrane’s spiritually charged “Tunji,” a rarely covered piece overshadowed on Trane’s classic 1962 eponymous album by his popular rendition of “The Inch Worm” and the epic performance of “Out of This World.” Pedicin powerfully evokes Trane’s searching urgency while casting the mysterious theme in his own lustrous light.

He taps into Coltrane’s dazzling “Countdown”-era harmonics on “Trane Stop,” a piece that features a particularly incisive solo by Valentino, who like Pedicin makes beautifully strategic use of open space. Another highlight is the funk-driven arrangement of “Song of the Underground Railroad,” the traditional theme that Coltrane arranged for the Africa/Brass project. Set to an uplifting groove, Pedicin offers a celebratory take on the ultimate act of resistance to slavery.

“I lived my life admiring and idolizing Trane, every day, all day,” Pedicin says. “I identify with everything about him. My two deepest attachments on the tenor saxophone are to Coltrane and Mike Brecker. I shook Coltrane’s hand as a kid. And I was a few years older than Mike when I was coming up in Philly, and we remained dear friends till his passing.”

Pedicin displayed his mastery of the ballad form on his acclaimed 2011 release Ballads. . . Searching for Peace, and he offers a similarly riveting performance on the sensuous “Then I Saw You,” a beatific melody delivered with supreme sensitivity and joy. He closes the album with another glowing epiphany, “Ubuntu,” a brief improvised solo saxophone passage that he played at the end of the recording session. “‘Ubuntu’ means ‘human kindness,’ an African philosophy which I also discussed in my liner notes,” says Pedicin. “It echoes my constant hope for peace and connectedness in our world.”

The brief absence of his accompanists only goes to highlight the band’s enviable cohesion throughout the session. The key element is the guitar of Johnnie Valentino, a highly versatile player who has quietly thrived on the Los Angeles scene for three decades. While often employed composing, scoring, sound designing and recording for films, TV, video games, and toys, he’s a widely respected jazz artist who has recorded with contemporary masters such as Pat Martino, Alan Pasqua, Kermit Driscoll, Vinny Golia, Bob Sheppard, Wadada Leo Smith, Bennie Maupin, and Gerry Hemingway, among many others.

Valentino has also played an essential role in Pedicin’s career, sparking his resurgence by encouraging him to return to the studio after more than a decade away from recording. They met when the saxophonist was living in Los Angeles and Valentino’s been on every Pedicin album since 2007’s portentously titled Everything Starts Now. . ., a turbo-charged quintet session featuring drummer Mike Sarin, bassist Chris Colangelo, and pianist Mick Rossi.

“Johnnie has been a very important person for me,” Pedicin says. “I had laid low for a while in terms of making records, and he said ‘You’ve got to get recording again. I’d love to write some tunes for you.’ He became a dear friend and real creative inspiration. He’s such a prolific composer. If I say I’d like a new ballad, he’ll send me seven tunes in two days.”

Born on July 29, 1947 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Michael Pedicin came up on the Philadelphia jazz scene in the early 1960s. The son of popular Philly saxophonist/bandleader Mike Pedicin (who scored an early rock ‘n’ roll hit in 1957 with a cover of Joe Morris’s “Shake a Hand”), he was immersed in music from birth, though he quickly staked out a different path from his father. Rather than discouraging his son, Pedicin père made sure he had the best teachers, eventually bringing him to Buddy Savitt, a bebop-steeped tenor saxophonist who had replaced Stan Getz in Woody Herman’s Second Herd.

“Buddy was a tremendous player who introduced me to the world of improvisation,” Pedicin says, noting that he started on alto. “My dad wasn’t a jazz guy. He sang and led a very entertaining band. I knew I wanted to go and study, and I started to investigate Cannonball and then Coltrane, who made me want to play the tenor.”

Widely hailed around Philly as a rising young player, Pedicin briefly studied music theory with legendary teacher Dennis Sandole, whose previous students included Coltrane, James Moody, Jim Hall, and Pat Martino (with whom Pedicin toured internationally from 2003-06). While accepted to Juilliard, he decided to stay in Philly and graduated as a composition major from the University of the Arts.

By the early 1970s he was a fixture in Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records, contributing alto, tenor, and soprano sax work on hundreds of sessions with the likes of Lou Rawls, the Spinners, the O’Jays, David Bowie, and the house MSFB Orchestra. At the same time, he played regularly in local jazz clubs, but after several years as a first-call studio cat, Pedicin was itching to flex his jazz chops.

At the recommendation of Peter Erskine he got the call from Maynard Ferguson, who gave Pedicin his first extensive experience out on the road. While the saxophonist considered Ferguson “a fantastic bandleader and mentor,” his distaste for touring brought him back home, and he re-immersed himself in the studio scene. Also drawn to the healing arts, he started to attend medical school several times, only to quickly be drawn back to music.

He released his debut as a leader in 1980, Michael Pedicin Jr. (Philadelphia International), which despite minimal promotion delivered a radio hit in New York City with “You.” He spent much of the 1980s working in Atlantic City hotels and casinos, contracting bands and accompanying stars like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. At the same time he was teaching at Temple University, and put in a two-year run with Dave Brubeck. All the while his interest in medicine never completely waned and he made a final run at med school in 1990. Eventually, he earned a Ph.D in psychology from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, which led to a small practice specializing in helping creative people. He’s also maintained a hand in education, serving since 2008 as Professor of Music and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.

While it’s tempting to link the emotional vitality of his music to his specialty in exploring the psyches of fellow artists, Pedicin demonstrated a gift for communicating deep truths through his horn long before earning a doctorate. The new authority of Pedicin’s playing stems from giving his muse free rein and surrounding himself with exceptional musicians.

“The Ballads CD was the first time I recorded music that I really wanted to play and record,” Pedicin says. “Last year’s Live at the Loft really built on that. I’m continuing the search, practicing almost every day and always trying to play better.”

With Why Stop Now. . . Ubuntu, Pedicin makes an incontrovertible case that he’s playing better than ever, and is truly hitting his stride as one of jazz’s more eloquent improvisers. *

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