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The DRUMMER



Stix Nickson

Stix Nickson says the beat goes on at his Drummersonly Drum Shop in Port St. Lucie. For the past eight years, Nickson has taught hundreds of students and served as a retailer for the percussion industry.
GREG GARDNER PHOTO

BY GREG GARDNER

Stix Nickson spends his waking hours practicing or performing percussion when he is not passing his 50 years of experience on to young people.

“Many fathers hand down a trade or a craft to their sons,” says Nickson. “I was a jazz-rock drummer. It is rare for a son to pass the craft up to his father. Through taking my son George to music practices, I began to learn classical drumming at age 50.”

Nickson can hardly contain himself when he talks about his son’s meteoric rise in the music world at age 28, and for good reason. George Nickson is principal percussionist for the Sarasota Symphony while his father is principal percussionist for the Treasure Coast Symphony. George has performed in Sydney, Australia; Budapest, Hungary; London; Cleveland and Boston. Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have described him as virtuosic marambist. He has also worked as a conductor and plays 50 different instruments.

The reason for George’s success can be traced to Garden City on Long Island, N.Y., when Stix was 8 years old and told his parents he wanted to play the drums. “Buddy Rich was my idol and my parents hated him,” he says. “My uncle was a drummer and a drunk. My parents did not want me to be a musician or play in the school band. I had to play piano and the accordion at the age of 8. They would not let me play drums until I was 15. I studied a lot (music) when I was young. I went to the Manhattan School of Music for two years, but never graduated. I couldn’t go to college to save my life. I was a working sideman in New York and I also did a lot of studio work. I was called to sessions because I could read music. My other expertise was when a drummer got sick I could come in as the cleanup guy, take a few cues and play the set like I was the regular drummer and no one would notice the difference.”

When George asked his father at age 8 if he could play the drums, the answer was no. “He learned to play the piano,” the elder Nickson says. The first day he walked into the Lincoln Park Academy band room as a seventh-grader, he began playing songs on the xylophone. His teacher said, “Where did you learn how to do that?” George Nickson would make all-state percussion every year until he graduated. He was given a full scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music. Upon graduation, he applied and was accepted to the Juilliard School in New York City. George was given a full scholarship to earn a master’s degree from a school that accepts less than 7 percent of the people who apply.

“My son’s success inspires me,” says Stix, who legally changed his first name in 1975. “I thank Buddy Rich every day. My son was born on the day the music died, the same day Buddy Rich died. He calls us (local drummers) hacks, but he practiced two to three hours a day in high school. In college, he practiced six to eight hours a day. That is what you have to do to stay at the top of your game, whether it is football, golf or music. Today it is all about instant gratification. Music is a really difficult thing. You have to have talent and you have to practice.”

Stix is just as proud of his daughter, Alexis, a political science major at the University of Ottawa on a full scholarship. Also a Lincoln Park graduate, Alexis recently worked as an aide to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with top-secret security clearance one day and out of a job the next when Harper was voted out of office.

For the past eight years, Stix has operated his Drummersonly Drum Shop on Village Green Drive in Port St. Lucie and the 20 or so students he instructs keep the doors open. Just about everything related to percussion takes up every square inch of the place. The shop looks like Drums R Us with several practice rooms and a large soundproof room used for studio recording.

When he got a call that St. Lucie County was going to throw out soundproofing panels, Stix rushed to the scene. “There is the dumpster right there, that minivan,” he told the county staffers.

Because he doesn’t have a college degree, Stix can’t teach fulltime, but he has been hired as an adjunct instructor, teaching band students at all of St. Lucie County’s high schools. He is also an adjudicator judge for the Florida Bandmasters Association, grading band performances from other parts of the state.

Since coming to St. Lucie County in 1990, Stix worked as a Realtor, rising to serve as president of the Real Estate Association of St. Lucie County. He also worked as a photographer, a passion he has enjoyed since his days on Long Island. “I took up photography in high school,” he says. “My teacher helped get me into Ohio University for photography. I was at Kent State shooting pictures of the cops beating students when these two cops clubbed me in the head from behind, knocked me down and ripped the camera from around my neck. They opened the camera, exposed the film and took me to jail. This judge was leaning back in his chair, feet up on his desk with a cigar hanging out of his mouth as those arrested came before him. ‘Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.’ Eventually, they dropped the charges. I had too much music and pot so I dropped out of school and came back to New York.”

While attending prep school in Massachusetts, Stix was able to see his favorite concert ever at the famous Tanglewood Music Center. “It was packed with people to see Ravi Shankar, Joan Baez and the Don Ellis Big Band,” Stix says. “When Ravi and Joan were finished everyone left and I got to sit in the front row. I had never seen an electronic trumpet. Twenty years later I had the TV on and I heard something that sounded familiar. I looked up and saw myself screaming in the front row.”

After moving to Port St. Lucie, Stix was one of the original founders of the Fort Pierce Jazz Society along with Darryl Bey, president of Bluebird Productions in Fort Pierce. “Stix was instrumental in forming the jazz society,” says Bey. “When national artists came to town, Stix would back them up on drums. He was part of the core of our jam sessions of drums, piano and bass.”

Bey says Stix has been a huge factor in the success of his foundation’s program, Recycle in the Key of E. Since 2008, more than 200 musical instruments have been donated and refurbished for St. Lucie County students. Using Nickson’s industry contacts, the program has the instruments refurbished at a reasonable cost.

“He has been teaching kids since I have known him, and he does it from the heart,” says Bey. “He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves and he doesn’t look for it either.”


Name: Stix Nickson
Age: 66
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Music teacher and percussion retailer
Family: Son George, 28, and daughter Alexis, 20
Background: Studio drummer and sideman in New York City before coming to Port St. Lucie to work as a photographer and Realtor. Owner of Drummersonly Drum Shop the past eight years.
Something most people don’t know about me: “Most people don’t know I was a videographer, photographer and that I once ran for the Port St. Lucie City Council.”