Jazz Pensacola is collaborating with the West Florida Public Library to present a Jazz Film Series on Sundays throughout July.
The series features four films that were all released between 1955 and 1961. One is a fictional story, but the others are biopics, chronicling the lives of three musicians who were contemporaries and each became famous in the 1930’s and 40’s.
“The first one is this Sunday and it’s The Benny Goodman Story,” said Jazz Pensacola co-founder and jazz aficionado Norman Vickers, who helped to pull the series together.
A movie trailer narrator declares, “The music is all Benny Goodman, played and conducted by the maestro himself. But, just as wonderful playing the starring role is the young man whose warm and winning personality has skyrocketed him to television fame, Steve Allen. And, as the girl in this exciting and most touching of true-life romances, Academy Award winner, beautiful and appealing, Donna Reed.”
The film series will take place at the downtown Pensacola Library. The screening of The Benny Goodman Story begins at 1:00, following a few remarks from Vickers about the famed clarinet player and bandleader, who helped to usher in the swing era in 1935.
“He had a very peculiar personality. And, one of the things that I will do is I will tell the audience briefly about his real personality and the real Benny Goodman, because some of this is “Hollywoodized [sic]," Vickers said.
The next movie in the series is The Glenn Miller Story, starring Jimmy Stewart. It will be shown July 8 and also will be introduced by Vickers.
The other films will be shown on July 22 and 29.
“The third one is The Gene Krupa Story,” said Vickers, adding that Jazz Pensacola Fred Domulot, who is a drummer and academician at Northwest Florida State College, will be the host for that. “The fourth one will be “Paris Blues,” and this is a fictional story about musicians, that are ex-pats, that go to Paris after World War II.”
Sal Mineo stars as Gene Krupa and Paris Blues features rising movie stars Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier, and the music of Duke Ellington.
As an introduction to Paris Blues, renowned pianist/vocalist Crystal Joy Albert will perform some jazz tunes and share some personal experiences about her career in Boston, New York, Harlem and Miami.
After each of the movies in the series, filmgoers are invited to check out the Jazz Room, which was added during the final phase of the renovation and expansion of the Pensacola Library between 2011 and 2013. It features $20,000 worth of CDs, movies, and books about the history, performance and culture of jazz. Vickers is proud of the collection.
“A lot of the books that we have in here, photo books for example, are signed by the artists themselves,” Vickers said. “Bill Gottlieb, famous photographer in 1935 to ‘47, with a couple years out to fight WWII. The Washington Post took all these pictures, so cheap, they made him buy his own film and his own flash bulbs, but he owned the negatives. Traveled all over the world, came here, and we’ve got some Gottlieb photos on the wall.”
“If you’re researching in the past, if you’re developing and wanting to learn how to play with typical music books, if you’re wanting to listen to see how it’s done, we pretty much have any stage of a jazz fan’s interest thanks to their help,” said librarian Rachel Nicholas about the variety and wealth of resources in the collection.
Nicholas describes the Jazz Room is a great, reflective space tucked away in the corner of the library’s second floor. But, she adds just about everything can be checked out.
“The biographies, the sheet music, the music CD’s, the concert DVD’s, all these items that the Jazz Society has helped us curate, with the exception of the paintings on the walls, you can check these items out and take them home with you,” she said. “If you have a library card, you can definitely say, ‘Oh, I’m over at Tryon, or I’m over at Century, send me that Billie Holiday CD.’”
In addition to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Artie Shaw and Dizzy Gillespie, Norm Vickers says the Jazz Room also contains information about locally grown jazz musicians.
“Slim Gaillard grew up in Pensacola. Nobody knows that. He was a BS artist and he said you know, “My father was a ship captain and I was born in Cuba and I got lost in Cyprus, and you know, that kind of thing. But, he grew up here. And, let’s see Gigi Gryce was a famous saxophonist. Crystal knew him.”
Also, paintings of jazz musicians by local artist Nina Fritz adorn the walls in the library’s jazz section and will be available for viewing after the movie.
The Jazz Film Series, presented by Jazz Pensacola and the West Florida Public Library, will begin this Sunday, July 1, 1:00 p.m., 239 N. Spring Street, downtown Pensacola. The first film is The Benny Goodman Story.