Composer / Singer / Actor: Jeffrey Edelman

Photo by D. Thomas

When I moved to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1979, I thought my life was over. Not because Omaha had nothing to offer me. I had no idea about that. But because what I left behind in the way of friendships and stimulation in Lawrence, KS, was so very rich.

However, when I met Jeff Edelman my concerns vanished. What a beautiful and brilliant fellow!

I met Jeff at a party. He had just come back from Los Angeles where he had hoped to generate interest in his music. Since that did not pan out in the time-frame he had available, Jeff returned to Omaha where he could secure employment as an actor in local theater productions.

Jeff brought a tape of his music to the party and tried to interest some of the partygoers in listening. We gathered in a separate room but the music required concentration. There was too much competing with the music and within a few minutes everyone had left the room. Everyone but me. I felt immediately that Jeff’s songs were brilliant, musically and lyrically. I still feel that way.

Jeff formed a band in Omaha called Squire Cribbs and began playing around the city. I went to every performance and, whenever possible, I took friends. I should add that I also began to raise my daughters on Jeff’s music (and now, my grandchildren).

Music and life

Jeff and I over-lapped in Omaha for a couple of years, becoming friends and spending time together. We talked primarily about his music but also about life. Jeff did not go to college. He came to his insights and his wisdom by his own means, but there was no denying it. His lyrics were thoughtful, sophisticated, insightful, and incisive. I had studied for years and could only marvel at how accessible and succinct his formulations. The quality of my life decreased when Jeff and his family moved to New York where Jeff could pursue work as a member of the voice actor community.

We kept in touch after his move. Jeff and his wife, Sue, were kind enough to allow me to stay days at a time in their home when I would go to New York for work. On those visits, in addition to spending time with his family, Jeff shared with me his work as a voice actor, taking me on his daily travels from studio to studio as he assumed the role of different characters and did voice-overs for commercials and public service announcements. As one of those characters, Jeff did a skit on the David Letterman Show.

Once, when I had an evening presentation in New Jersey, Jeff drove me there and back. On the way, he told me what had transpired that day at work. As he was leaving, one of the advertising agents asked him if he would be willing to do a series of commercials for Bush. Jeff said sure, thinking she was talking about the beer. “Good,” she replied, “I wanted to ask because I know how you feel.” Jeff stopped the elevator doors from closing: “Wait a minute,” he said, “you mean George Bush?” Jeff refused. I asked him how much money that meant he would forego. It was, from my point of view, a substantial amount.

All songs copyrighted: S. Parkison (c) 2022

“the Japanese call it ‘Icky guy'”

The last series of emails Jeff and I exchanged, not long before his death, concerned my insistence that Jeff return to Omaha to perform his songs. A one-night performance. I wanted this to happen in the worse way. Not only were Jeff’s songs brilliant but Jeff was a wonderful performer. I wanted my kids and friends to see him. In the course of our exchanges, he sent me the following email:

“On the radio this morning I heard that the Japanese call it ‘icky guy’. It is a reason for living. Purpose for a life.  And I have a hell of a time of it. I write things and kinda move on but I lose sight of my icky guy. I can’t seem to keep my focus long enough to get these balls rolling down their respective lanes. But, your appreciation of my efforts and understanding makes me realize that, strike, spare or gutterball, whether I trip over my own feet on the way or do a Fred Flintstone, twinkle toes, perfect approach, it’s all about playing the game. All we really gotta do is show up and play. Our ideas, our plans, our Dreams cannot be concealed if we participate. They will be evident in everything we do. We just have to DO. We must continue doing. Anything. And the world will know.

“This is why we sit on the brink of endless worldwide war. The dearth of ideas and Dreams in the halls of power has led us back to tried and false positions of failed history. It is unbelievable but true. Money tends to corrode Dreams and ideals. The extent of the damage overwhelms me on a more regular basis as time goes by. But, once in a while I get a shot of ‘oh, yeah’ that brings me back to full life and gets the old icky guy groovin.

“There may be more of ‘them’ than there are of us, but I don’t think so. I think that ‘they’ are just a lot louder (which is rudeness), richer (which is greed), and more self-centered (which is more greed mixed with some weird vanity). Also, they don’t care what they have to do to achieve their goals. Nothing is beneath them. Because they do not Dream.”

The plan of returning to Omaha was not to materialize. In 2003, Jeff began dealing with a variety of symptoms that quickly worsened. In 2004, sadly, he died of malignant melanoma before the age of fifty, leaving behind his wife and four children.

Undiscovered genius

Jeff also left behind a remarkable collection of some thirty songs. Here is what Reggie Marshall, president of MarsJazz, a booking agency representing jazz artists, said of Jeff’s music when I sent him the recordings:

I love Jeff’s music… He’s a great songwriter, and he writes in different styles.   His songs are both catchy and complex, which is a difficult blend to pull off, and his lyrics are deeply meaningful without being pretentious.  

 I think Jeff is a perfect example of all the hundreds of undiscovered geniuses that have come and gone without their genius gaining the wider recognition it deserves.

When I retired, I identified several projects to which I wanted to dedicate my time. One of the projects was to help Jeff’s music find its audience. As Reggie Marshall indicated, Jeff wrote in a number of different styles: jazz, blues, rock, ballads, but overall, regardless of genre, his music, to my mind, was and is theater. It is music that should be performed on a stage perhaps within a musical play.

All songs copyrighted: S. Parkison (c) 2022

Steps taken

Jeff did not write sheet music for his songs. But thankfully, his music is available on tape in performances by Squire Cribbs and in solo performances. So, to begin our project, I have had sheet music created for twenty-two of Jeff’s songs. A number of wonderful vocalists and musicians have expressed interest in a musical performance. That seems like a reasonable first step: a musical performance of Jeff’s music, each song performed or interpreted as the musician/vocalist, in question, wishes. The development of a play will be down the road, but a musical performance is the initial goal. I should add that I have remained over the years in touch with Jeff’s wife, Sue Parkison. She is a key collaborator in the process.

As it turns out, we were well under way with our initial goal of having a performance of Jeff’s music when the pandemic hit. Songs had been assigned, some rehearsals had begun, a venue was selected, and then, everything stopped.

For now, the project is on hold. It will pick back up at some point. Considerable time and energy have been put into the project already. We even have a pass-through nonprofit to whom supporters can make a tax deductable donation in order to help with the costs. We intend to take the project as far as our talents and resources will allow. Many of those involved feel as I do, that it is an honor to be involved with Jeff’s music.

Recent developments

A play is now under development with the hope that it can serve as a proper platform for Jeff’s music. For the latest on this project, go to TIMETABLE.

Photo by D. Thomas

David Thomas, PhD

Addendum

In the course of developing the Jeff Edelman project, I met Jim Schrader. Jim knew Jeff well and played on some of Jeff’s recordings. He was thrilled to learn of the project and has been an important supporter of the effort. Early on, Jim suggested that he interview himself as a way of introducing Jeff. Here is that interview.

Who was Jeff Edelman?

Jeff Edelman was a stage & film actor, a voice actor, musician, songwriter, and recording artist. He was prolific from the late 1970s, until his untimely death in 2004, from malignant melanoma.

How would you describe Jeff Edelman’s music?

Jeff Edelman’s music moves me. It’s thoughtful, insightful, joyful, disappointed, clever, innocent, jaded, and hopeful. His compositions are consistently unique and original, and can include little breaks and quick scene changes.  Jeff often questions why things are the way they are, many times wanting more. He invites his listener to want something more too, something different. Something better.

His musical styling is as varied as any American artist of his or any generation. Alone with his guitar, Edelman might be described as “folky”, or “jazzy.”  He tends toward syncopation in his rhythms, and chooses rich & yummy, or dissonant & unsettling chords to support his particular lyrical message.

What are the themes to which Jeff’s music & lyrics speak?

 Jeff’s themes are consistently epic and iconic, even in the everyday. To Edelman, things seem either wonderful and perfect…or sullied and damaged. Frequently the idealist, he is unsettled, unhappy, and quite frustrated with lies, cruelty, and disregard for others. When he is happy, Jeff is happily overwhelmed. When he is not happy, he seems to bear the weight of the world. Jeff’s love songs are hopefully romantic, and his social statement tunes are typically anything but hopeful.

What do you appreciate about Jeff’s music?

 The three things I appreciate most about Jeff Edelman’s music are: 1) its honesty and sincerity,  2) the variety in mood and feel among different compositions, and 3) the originality he regularly demonstrates, many times checking to see if someone is listening—if there’s anybody out there.

How do you explain Jeff’s musicality? His lyrics?

Jeff Edelman’s compositions; his words & music, and the performances of those compositions share a common essence best described as channeling. Channeling is the action of detaching from personal ego, and tapping directly into the collective human consciousness. It is what has been referred to as the wisdom of the ages, and sounds like magic, but it is real for Edelman, and for those with whom he connects.

Jeff Edelman seemed happiest when he wrote a song, played a song, acted in a play, sang an advertising jingle, read the announcer script on a national TV commercial, or thanked a grateful fan “for coming to the show tonight!”  He was at his best when he channeled love and creativity.

What has his music meant to you personally? What did it stir inside of you?

The biggest thing, the best of all that Jeff Edelman’s music has given me, is the way in which the music reflects the man himself, and his main messages: 1) it is a kick and a wonder that we are all here right now. 2) it’s great that you are you and I am me.  and, 3) why are there so many misguided and insensitive people in this world? Jeff was a complicated and dear man.  He recognized the best in the human spirit, and the worst. And he wrote and sang about it.

Jeff Edelman demonstrated that we are here in this life to be ourselves, and to be Creators. To question things that are not right. And to celebrate all that is, thankfully, just as we’d hoped:  loving, caring, drinking, cussing, spending warm times with a few very good friends, and playing music—for anybody, with anybody who could keep up with Jeff’s high level of performance. Have I mentioned that Jeff Edelman was a consummate musician; a virtuoso guitarist, and skilled and artful singer?

Any performance or personal stories about Jeff that you would like to share, stories that in your view reveal who Jeff was as an artist or person?

Just being around Jeff Edelman was exciting. He was magnetic. Not only was Jeff treasured by his fans and friends, he was popular with the people who worked with and around him. Bar owners, advertising account executives, the guys at the music stores, the recording engineers at the studios where he’d work, other actors, agents, and a host of show business people loved to spend time around Jeff Edelman.

And when he chose to spent time with me, I felt fortunate indeed!

Thanks, David, for the opportunity to reflect on one of the most creative, fun, funny and serious people I will ever have the sheer joy of knowing.

-Jim Schrader   03.04.18