© 2023 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Saga of region’s jazz scene revealed in new exhibit

Jessie Cragg
UWF Historic Trust

The Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center is currently displaying “Musically Inclined,” an exhibition highlighting the history and influence of jazz music along the Gulf Coast. Rooted in New Orleans but prominent in Pensacola, jazz music quickly spread across the region before making its way to the global stage.

The Pensacola’s jazz scene’s heyday occurred in the 1950s and 60s, with musicians playing local venues almost nightly. Many jazz greats called Pensacola home, including Frank Horne of the Bourbon Street Six jazz band and Junior Cook.

Support Local Stories. Donate Here.

“The history of jazz is incredible once you start to dig into it,” said Jessie Cragg, curator of exhibits at the University of West Florida Historic Trust. “Sometimes when you mention jazz, people don't have a strong recollection of specific songs they've heard, but when they come on the radio, they're instantly recognizable, and that's because jazz is timeless. Everyone has heard a jazz song, so this exhibit really taps into that collective memory we have.”

The exhibit is timed to coincide with JazzFest, Pensacola's annual spring jazz festival. Put on by the Jazz Society of Pensacola, the organization helps to keep the musical tradition of jazz alive.

Jessie Cragg
UWF Historic Trust

The exhibit came together with the help of two Pensacola citizens, Norm Vickers and Joan Jacobson. Vickers was a founding member of the Jazz Society of Pensacola who photographed nearly every Jazz Society event from the beginning. Jacobson, whose father was Frank Horne, donated some of her father's belongings, along with never-before-seen photographs, allowing the Historic Trust to put together a complete exhibit.

“[Jacobson] has kept her father's band's music stands for years, preserving that piece of history so wonderfully, and we're honored to be the caretakers of them for the next generation,” Cragg said. “If artifacts could talk, those band stands would have the best stories. They were witness to every performance, were part of every party, and held every sheet of music, so they're certainly a very special piece.”

Along with band stands and photographs, the exhibit showcases jazz instruments, sheet music, and other items. Numerous plaques from the Music Maker Hall of Fame are also on display.

“We have several that have been gifted to us over the years, and it is for recognition of artist talent by their peers, which is a second aspect of jazz that I find so important,” Cragg said. “Not only is music appreciated by audiences, but the community of jazz musicians is powerful. They advocate for the art form and each other in a way that is inspiring. The sense of community is very strong, and these plaques represent that.”

Jessie Cragg
UWF Historic Trust

Although the exhibit focuses on the history of the Gulf Coast’s jazz scene, jazz is a vibrant and diverse art form that is still relevant today. With the help of the Jazz Society, the Voices of Pensacola is able to draw the connection between jazz’s history and the modern day.

“Hopefully this exhibit will be meaningful to everyone who views it and provide them with some background on a vibrant, rich, and significant part of Gulf Coast history,” Cragg said. “There's something for everyone. Jazz lovers will be able to appreciate the artifacts and music, while those who have no background in jazz can learn something new. This exhibit is small but mighty, linking the past and the present through a universal love of music.”

The exhibit “Musically Inclined” will be on display at the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center until January 2024. The museum is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

For more information about the Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center, click here. The museum is located at 117 E. Government St., downtown Pensacola.

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.