Pedicin appears at the Exit Zero Jazz Festival with his working Quintet, featuring pianist Frank Strauss, bassist Mike Boone, drummer Anwar Marshall and long-time collaborator, guitarist-composer Johnnie Valentino.
As It Should Be: Ballads 2, the 14th album of tenor and soprano saxophonist Michael Pedicin’s prolific career, is in many ways akin to his acclaimed 2011 CD, Ballads
searching for peace. Ballads showcasing the exquisitely lyrical aspects of Pedicin’s playing are again the focus, but with a difference. Other than the John Coltrane classic “Crescent” and an especially tender treatment of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (a tune rarely performed in a jazz context), eight of the disc’s 10 songs were composed as ballads by the saxophonist’s longtime collaborator, guitarist Johnnie Valentino. Several of them, however, were treated to somewhat brighter grooves than had been originally intended after the musicians got to the recording studio, particularly “From Afar,” which was double-timed at a bossa-nova-like clip by drummer Justin Faulkner and percussionist Alex Acuña.
The themes of Ballads searching for peace and As It Should Be both reflect Pedicin’s abiding concern with issues of peace and justice. “I’m one of those diehard Sixties kids that grew up concerned about peace and togetherness and acceptance,” he explains. “I think about that every day of my life. We’re all one. This is probably a necessary component in our world more than ever, at least more than ever in my lifetime. I believe that we’re all human beings more than anything else: race, ethnicity, nationality.”
Everyone in the current quintet, save for Peruvian-born, Los Angeles-based Acuña, has close connections to Philadelphia. Michael Pedicin was born on July 29, 1947, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and raised in nearby Ardmore. Both towns are suburbs of Philadelphia. Philly native Johnnie Valentino has lived in Southern California for many years and works as a guitarist and composer. Pianist Frank Strauss and bassist Mike Boone are both much-in-demand players on the contemporary Philadelphia jazz scene. Pedicin feels lucky to have been able to recruit longtime Branford Marsalis drummer Justin Faulkner for the session because he happened to be at home in Philadelphia for a winter break. Alex Acuña, of course, is best known in jazz circles for his three-year stint with Weather Report, although his eclectic credits also include work with Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, Paul McCartney, Madonna, and the Christian jazz band Koinonia.
Michael Pedicin is a second-generation saxophonist. 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 at age 80.
“I idolized my dad as a saxophonist,” Pedicin 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.”
Mike Pedicin 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. Even though his 1957 Cameo recording of “Shake a Hand” became a big hit, he started turning down offers to perform, preferring to remain in Philly and work there.
Michael received few pointers from his father. “He didn’t want to teach me,” he says. “He wanted to be my dad. He passed away in June  at 98. He had a wonderful and very healthy life. Five weeks before my dad left us to join my mother, he was still driving his beloved convertible, and continues to inspire his family, including me.”
When Michael 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, who became his hero on the horn. Then he heard records by John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, and he knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life: play the saxophone.
Michael would later see and shake Coltrane’s hand at Pep’s in Philadelphia. “He was a gentle soul,” Michael recalls. He studied theory with guitarist Dennis Sandoli and saxophone with Philadelphia Orchestra clarinetist 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 competingand winningat 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 harangued me for a year 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.
Pedicin taught at UArts from 1976 to 1981, and during much of the ’80s, he 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). At the same time, he was contracting musicians for his orchestras in five hotel/casino theaters in Atlantic City, and also played behind singers such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
Putting Atlantic City behind him gave Pedicin more time to focus on playing straight-ahead jazz. Besides leading his own quintet, he also toured from 2003 to 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 2002 earned a Ph.D in psychology from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine/International University for Graduate Studies.
Pedicin was a professor of music at Richard Stockton College in Galloway, New Jersey, from 2008 until 2016. He currently divides his time between a home in Linwood, New Jersey and an apartment in New York City. While in Linwood, he sees patients in his Linwood office.
The shingle above his psychology office now reads “Dr. Michael Pedicino.” He recently had his last named changed back to the one that had been taken away from his grandfather when he arrived at Ellis Island from the Italian province of Foggia in 1906. He also is in the process of obtaining dual American-Italian citizenship. He has no plans, however, to change his name in the world of music.
As It Should Be is the latest chapter in the master musician’s ongoing quest to help bring the motto of the City of Brotherly Love to fruition for human beings of all races, ethnicities, and nationalities through its sweet melodies and gentle improvisations.
“My approach for this CD,” Pedicin explains, “is to create some pretty and accessible jazz in ballad form. This is not about revolutionizing the art form we so love, but providing a soft and relaxing platform on which to enjoy it.”