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Retired doctor keeps jazz afloat in Pensacola

Retired doctor keeps jazz afloat in Pensacola

Retired doctor keeps jazz afloat in Pensacola
 Troy Moon, tmoon@pnj.com 12:08 p.m. CDT August 7, 2016

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(Photo: Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com)
The joke used to be that if you called Dr. Norman Vickers office when he was still in practice, you'd have to specify whether the call was "medical or musical." It could have been either, since the now-retired gastroenterologist ran the Jazz Society of Pensacola out of his office.
He doesn't carry a stethoscope around any longer, but can still dig a harmonica out of his pants pocket on request and launch into jazz standards with ease.
A smile creeps across the 85-year-old's face in the seconds before he starts playing Fats Wallers' "Lulu's Back in Town" on his always-present chromatic harmonica.
Vickers is Pensacola's jazz ambassador, historian and keeper of the flame. He is one of the founders of Jazz Pensacola — formerly Jazz Society of Pensacola — and served as the organization's volunteer executive director from 1986 to 2004. Now, he is the organization's director emeritus and is still a guiding force in Pensacola's compact — but healthy — jazz scene.

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He helped launch the first Pensacola JazzFest in 1983, working with the Arts Council of Northwest Florida and WUWF-FM. He was one of the first board members of the American Federation of Jazz Societies and was elected president of the national federation in 1993.
"It's just the music that I've always enjoyed,'' Vickers said, sitting in the Jazz Room at the downtown branch of the West Florida Public Library, surrounded by pictures of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and other giants of the American art form known as jazz. He remembers hearing the music as a child in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and seeing the effect it had on people.
"I remember hearing some boogie woogie players — I was about 10 at the time — and I could sit for long periods of time and just listen,'' he said. "I'd see these dances where the music was different and it made people act different and react in different ways. My mother played piano — classical stuff — so we always had some kind of live music around the house. It's just always been part of my life."

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For many people in Pensacola Norm Vickers is synonymous with Jazz. The retired physician has been an instrumental part of the local jazz scene for years. (Photo: Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com)
Vickers played piccolo in high school and took piano lessons throughout his childhood. He taught himself guitar and harmonica and has sat in with numerous artists in the region. But his main contribution to jazz in Pensacola is as its ambassador, historian and organizer — helping keep the music afloat even as jazz's popularity wavered throughout the decades.
"He's referred to as the 'Father of the Jazz Society','' said Ralph Knowles, a longtime Jazz Pensacola member who was a major contributor to the Jazz Room at the library — a contribution Knowles made to honor his late wife, Janet. "(Vickers) is the one who kept it going, kept it going, kept it going. And he's the most knowledgeable about jazz in this area."
Vickers came of age during the big band era, a music he still loves today.

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"It was dance music,'' Vickers said. "You could turn on the radio and hear it. It was stuff people could understand. It had songs with words people could understand."
Of course, big band was only one facet of jazz.

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For many people in Pensacola Norm Vickers is synonymous with Jazz. The retired physician has been an instrumental part of the local jazz scene for years. (Photo: Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com)
"The bop stuff, OK, I understand it, and like it in small doses,'' he said, "but it didn't really move me."
Same with "free jazz" as performed by innovators such as Ornette Coleman, which discarded many of the norms of jazz.
"Guys like Ornette Coleman, I know what they're doing," he said. But again — "it doesn't move me."
Vickers on other jazz greats:
Duke Ellington: "A genius."
Miles Davis: "An egomaniac and not a nice person. I wouldn't buy his bio until after he died."

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Louis Armstrong: "Changed the face of music. He had so much insight into music."
Sarah Vaughn: "Probably the best technical jazz vocalist."
Vickers also listens to classical music, blues and old classic country artists such as Bob Wills.
But rock music was never his bag.
"Uh, well, I found it interesting,'' Vickers said. "But the music was simplistic. You know, dumbed-down stuff for a dumbed-down market. It was interesting though."
To see a video of Dr. Norman Vickers at the Jazz Room at the downtown library, go to pnj.com.


Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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