joe negri playing guitar at the greer cabaret theater

Joe Negri Receives Award In 15th Year of JazzLive

Tue, Apr 30, 2019

Written by: Kitoko Chargois

While April marks Jazz Appreciation Month, all of 2019 is about appreciating jazz in Pittsburgh because BNY Mellon Presents JazzLive is celebrating its 15th anniversary! And what better way to celebrate than by honoring one of Pittsburgh’s very own legends, guitarist Joe Negri?

On April 23, Negri was awarded the second annual JazzLive Legacy Award for his contributions to the city’s jazz scene. In 2018, Roger Humphries received the first ever JazzLive Legacy Award.

A photo of (from left to right) Max Leake, Roger Humphries, Joe Negri and Terri Bell

(From left to right) Max Leake, Roger Humphries, Joe Negri and Terri Bell following the presentation of Negri's award. Leake is the pianist in Roger's band and presented the award to Negri.

 

“I'm very honored and thrilled to get [the award],” Negri said. “My life has been all jazz. Ever since I was 14, 15, that's all I've ever known.”

Negri began his illustrious music career at the age of three with the ukulele, but by the time he was 8, he was ready to move on to bigger, better things. “The ukulele became … not musical enough,” he said. “I had to do something to make the accompaniment more meaningful, so I started playing the guitar and that’s how it all began.”

By the time he was 16, Negri was immersed in the jazz world and there was no going back. Throughout his career, he has toured with Shep Fields, served as musical director at WTAE-TV, led a trio at KDKA-TV, began a jazz guitar program at both the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University, and so much more. Many people also know him as Handyman Negri in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

“A lot of people don't realize it but between Mr. Johnny Costa and me, the Rogers show had this jazz influence in the music,” he said. “People have told me that that introduction on the Rogers show turned them onto jazz, and they’ve always liked it since they were children.”

Today, Negri continues to pass on his experience, passion, and knowledge to youth at Duquesne University and, up until most recently, the University of Pittsburgh. In addition to teaching his students the instrument, he wants to impart on them who the jazz pioneers were.

What’s Next in BNY Mellon Presents JazzLive ‘19?

In June, the free Tuesday night JazzLive series moves outside to Agnes R. Katz Plaza. Terri Bell, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, has curated an amazing lineup of artists. There will be new-to-JazzLive performances by the Blue-Hots, who will be serving up vocalese, the Boilermaker Jazz Band, and some Gospel Jazz with Dr. Alton Merril & Impact. Special ticketed performances with Kenny Garrett and his quintet in June and Shamie Royston and her quintet in July are also upcoming at the Greer Cabaret Theater.

an audience listens to a jazzlive concert in katz plaza
 

A jazz enthusiast, Bell puts a lot of consideration into the JazzLive program. “I try to blend both emerging artists who are new on the jazz scene with many of the regional artists who have been in this program for the entire 15 years, so that people are hearing new musicians each week, and so that some of the new upcoming talent get an opportunity. I also with great intention try to include women in the program.”

Jazz is serious business in Pittsburgh. From the 1920s to 1960s, Pittsburgh’s Hill District was renowned for it. The city grew several jazz greats and musicians from all over would come to experience Pittsburgh’s jazz scene. Today, JazzLive helps to keep that glorious musical tradition alive.

In the words of Negri, “We’re not New Orleans, we’re not Chicago, we’re not Kansas City, but Pittsburgh has really given a lot to jazz, and a lot of really wonderful jazz musicians have come out of this town.”

Tags:
  • Jazz
  • JazzLive
  • Joe Negri