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Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Doctor is In

Ed Strauman,
Philly's Versatile
Music Man

By Richard Carreno
Junto Senior Staff Writer Bio
Part piano man, part PhD academician, part arranger, and all-round jazz-man, Ed Strauman in recent years is probably best known by fans of his prolific output as a composer of languid piano pieces. The kind of instrumentals that define the atmospherics of a sort of boozy, sort of smokey 'Play-it-Again-Sam' piano joint. And the kind of progressive jazz that Strauman and his crew -- often with Michael Pedecin on tenor sax -- have built a reputation around.

This, especially, since Just Once More, Strauman's latest (2008) eight-track CD, arranged for his 'Ed Strauman Concert Jazz Quintet.' Strauman's group features the omni-present Pedicin on saxaphone (well known to late night audiences at WRTI-FM), Johnnie Valentine on guitar, and the Man himself, of course, on piano. Rounding out the group is on Ron Olmi (drums); Jordan Berger (bass); and songtress Elissa Lala.

I can't seem to shake the eponymous title track (4:04). This mesmerizing ballad is equally moody and melancholy; it keeps reverberating in my head. A good thing.

Other original tracks include In Loco Parentis (6:07); Huh? (4:06); Serpentine (4:41); and When We Were Young ((10:17), another too-sad -- curiously in its own way, still upbeat -- trip back to a dreamier past.

I've known Strauman for almost 10 years from some of those late-night, sort of boozy, private gigs in South Philly. (New municipal laws now make 'the sort of smokey part', of course, passe). Despite being up close and personal, the full weight of Strauman's musicality -- embracing more than 20 years as a principal in the Philadelphia jazz scene -- has largely escaped me. After Just Once More, it's not just me who needs to take a second look. Just once more.

The light and easy tonality of the Just Once More, almost 50 minutes in all, captures Strauman's nostalgic sensibility, as well as the putative notion -- and I hope that I'm just not hearing things -- of a kind of hope in the face of despair. Just once more. This time, be it for love, for faith, or for desire, Strauman underscores an undaunted spirit. All it might take is to play it again, do it again, just once more.

Strauman has always been the ivory-tapper extraordinaire. Sheet music? Who needs it. Any shout-out from an audience member automatically triggers the right tinkling. What range. What memory. What skill.

Naturally, Strauman was an overnight success.

That is, if you discount the 20 hard years of hard knocks, commuting to New York to get his doctorate at New York University's Steinhardt School of Education. After private study with Adolph Sandole, Jim cNeely, Manny Albam, and Gunter Schuler. After residences with the ASCAP/NYU Buddy Baker Film Music Symposium, the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, and the like.

In between, there's been work-outs as a conductor for Philly-based musical productions, including Annie, Les Miserables, Bye Bye Birdie; as a performance accompanist for dance companies from Philadelphia (Pennsylvania Ballet), to New York (City Ballet), to Chicago (Hubbard Street Ballet); and dozens of group and solo gigs from such echt hot spots as the Blue Note Jazz Club and the Florence Gould Hall in the Big Apple to the Clef Club and the Recital Hall of the Academy of Music back in his hometown. (Strauman and his wife, Mary, live in South Philly).

All along, there's also been the music and other hit CDs, including the 'Little Big Band' sounds of Dedicated, the jazz dance suite of Listen With Your Feet, Strauman's solo in Alone in The East Parlor, and the combo of original compositions and jazz standards of A Change of Heart.

Strauman's journey -- and his commitment to carry American music to new generations -- has resulted in yet more creative work, as an assistant professor of music at Chestnut Hill College

Whether you call Strauman's work as experimental, modern, chamber -- and even as some have, accurately, I think, as 'intellectual' -- his music is persistently haunting. Play it again, Ed. Just once more.

Just Once More is available on CD from Concert Jazz at $12.97, or can be downloaded at 99 cents track via www.cdbaby.com.