On the second floor of the downtown West Florida Public Library, a small room in the corner of the building contains an impressively curated collection of jazz-related material.
More than 800 CDs, corresponding sheet music, biographies, reference guides and movies line the walls of the room — a collection of donated items valued at $19,000.
Black-and-white photographs of Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington hang behind the CD player console and computer to the left.
The idea for a jazz room inside the library came about in the early 80s, shortly after the Jazz Society of Pensacola was formed. The problem with the old library set up, was the organization of the materials — the few jazz items the library had were houses separately from one another. Jazz books were with the rest of the music books, and the CDs were mixed in with the other CD genres. The library and the newly formed Jazz Society set a goal to house all the jazz material in one spot, while incorporating a listening area for the tapes and CDs.
The new room has a glass door that can be closed, providing a place to listen to the music without disturbing the people reading and researching at the tables scattered throughout the second floor.
Stephen McCury has been coming to the jazz room almost every day of the week, for the last month. He doesn't check out the books, or read along with the sheet music.
Stephen McCury uses the computer in the jazz room to search for available CDs. (Photo: Hana Frenette/PNJ)
"I just like being able to listen to the music," he said. Sometimes McCury will sit in the room for a few hours, the main light turned off with just daylight coming through the glass door, and listen to CDs.
Today he is listening to Jack Teagarden and his All Stars.
Stephen McCury holds out his CD of choice in the jazz room at the West Florida Public Library- Jack Teagarden and his All Stars. (Photo: Hana Frenette/PNJ)
The room holds hundreds of tapes and CDs. Some come in series, some are compilations. Each item has been carefully chosen for the small room.
Dr. Norman Vickers, one of the founding members of the Jazz Society, was instrumental in the process of gathering quality jazz materials when the room and the idea behind it first came together.
"The former director of the library, Gene Fischer, wanted to create a jazz section, but didn't know how to set it up, and I said, well, we know how," Vickers said. "The Jazz Society was able to pick some material, and we had a few consultants for the first couple of years who were very helpful with how to start this up."
Record producer George Buck, from New Orleans, and Gus Statiras from New York City provided guidance concerning music material decisions and selections.
"These folks were nationally known producers," Jazz Society member Ralph Knowles said.
The jazz room was officially created in 2013, when the West Florida Public Library underwent an extensive renovation.
A corner of the small jazz room, full of CDs, books, biographies and reference materials, on the second floor of the West Florida Public Library on North Spring Street. (Photo: Hana Frenette/PNJ)
"Jazz rooms or jazz type facilities are typically found in universities where there are departments of music," said Todd Humble West Florida Public Library Director. "I've been looking around for the last few months and I've only come across one other public library, in Washington, D.C., that has a public jazz area."
Humble envisions the jazz room growing two or three times the current size in the next few years.
"We will be adding record conversion tools for the library, so people that have older LPs that are out of copyright can go ahead and digitize the," he said. "We'd eventually like to expand into some of the other smaller rooms next to this one."
The jazz room has received many generous financial donations during the the past 20 years, with the Friends of the West Florida Library matching each financial donation.
Vickers and others who are a part of the Jazz Society still help curate the materials inside the room and go through donations regularly to find items that compliment what the room already has to offer.
"We know what we have already, where the vacancies are, and what niche places need to be filled," he said. "We go through and look for what is truly unique and what we could use to make the jazz collection here even better."
Dr. Norman Vickers looks through a collection of jazz history books inside the jazz room at the West Florida Public Library on North Spring Street. (Photo: Hana Frenette/PNJ)
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the jazz room should go through the Jazz Society of Pensacola, and can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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