Jazz Fest is part of the legacy of “Jazz Hero” Norman Vickers

After a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the 37th Pensacola Jazz Festival was held in the historic square of Seville last weekend (May 15-16).

It was a successful comeback, much to the delight of Dr Norman Vickers, a driving force behind the music festival for almost 40 years – and it continues.

For his efforts, Vickers was named a Jazz heroes 2021.

Around noon on Saturday, under the canopy of the park’s many large oaks, the Jack Zoesch quartet performs and Dr. Vickers, CEO Emeritus of Jazz Pensacola, enjoy the music in the VIP tent.

He has a quick lunch before heading to the musicians tent for an interview with Zoesch.

Vickers handed over the reins of the local jazz society in 2006, but at 90, but he continues to play an important role within the organization.

“He is the dean of the college of jazz knowledge. He’s the godfather of local jazz, ”begins the Jazz Fest emcee, as he calls Vickers on stage to present a gift to fellow founder Joe Occhipinti.

“The doctor is inside; Dr. Norm Vickers,” proclaims the announcer, making the introduction and turning the microphone back on.

Vickers presented Occhipinti with a boxed article published last summer by the Pensacola News Journal, “Joe, your friends, we salute you and thank you for your long-standing service to the Pensacola jazz organization and community in his outfit.”

This praise for Occhipinti also sums up the reasons why the Jazz Journalists Association named Vickers “2021 Jazz Hero”. The nomination came from 2017 Jazz Hero, Lew Shaw, of Phoenix. The winners were announced in April.

“I’m very proud of it and I accept this for our entire organization because it’s been a cooperative effort from the start,” said Vickers.

Speaking from the comfort of his living room ahead of Jazz Fest, Vickers recalled how it all started in the early 1980s, with the support of WUWF Executive Director Pat Crawford and Diane Magie, at the helm of what was then the Pensacola Arts Council.

“I said, ‘Well, we need a jazz festival’,” Vickers begins to recount the the story.

“If she had been a good administrator, she would have said, ‘Damn, that’s a good idea, I’m going to talk to my board.’ She did not do it. She said, “It’s a good deal, let’s do it,” he said with a chuckle.

To support the music festival, Vickers and a dedicated group of jazz enthusiasts formed the Jazz Society of Pensacola (now called Jazz Pensacola). He became a founding member of the board, assumed the post of volunteer executive director and the first jazz festival in Seville Square was held in the spring of 1983.

“Well, like I said, it’s been a cooperative effort from the start. It’s like proctology, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it, ”the retired gastroenterologist joked.

Vickers also had an impact on the jazz community beyond Pensacola. He was instrumental in the founding of the American Federation of Jazz Societies and is a founding member of the Association of Jazz Journalists.

By honoring it, the JJA describes Vickers as “a harmonica doctor who for the past 40 years has been the ambassador of jazz and the moving spirit behind Jazz Pensacola. “

His passion for music began at a young age, learning to play the piano and listen to the radio while growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the 1930s and 1940s.

“We used to listen to big band stuff,” he recalls. “So it was right from the start. And our radio station played country music during the day, but at night I could turn on and listen to music from the Blue Room in New Orleans.

Vickers received a chromatic harmonica at the age of 10.

Always keeping it close at hand, the doctor takes out his harmonica from his shirt pocket; and as he often did for his patients, he played a few bars.

This is a bit like Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”.

“From a personal point of view, it has been absolutely wonderful for me, because I have made friends – nationally and locally – that I never would have made before,” he proclaimed. “And it was a complete diversion of the pressures of practicing medicine.”

Vickers continues to be active in the jazz community, blogging and writing articles for the Jazz Pensacola newsletter and contributing to the publication, the Syncopated times.

Jazz Pensacola provided outreach services to musicians in high schools and colleges, with the help of student jazz.

One of the lasting legacies of the company is its contribution to the Jazz room – with an inventory of CDs, books and DVDs valued at over $ 20,000 – at the West Florida Public Library in downtown Pensacola.

“I’m really proud of it. There are only two libraries that have a room dedicated solely to Jazz. There are a number of them dedicated only to music in general. “

For all he has accomplished locally and nationally, Vickers says receiving accolades has never been his motivation.

“Motivation was something that I thought was important, something important to me and I thought it was important for the community,” he said with humility, recalling that “someone has to. make”.

Back at the Jazz Fest, with great music, great weather and a terrific crowd after missing last year, the 2021 Jazz Hero declares he is “ecstatically happy.”

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