By MARTY LEVINE
Everyone in Pittsburgh knows jazz guitar great Joe Negri for his appearances on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, as well as his work with other famed jazz musicians, his recordings and awards. In fact, just last week Negri received another honor: the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s second annual JazzLive Legacy Award.
But his work as Pitt’s top guitar instructor, from which he is retiring now at age 92 after 49 years, may be less well known.
One person who knows it best is John Maione, who was one of Negri’s first students here, in 1972, and has worked alongside him as guitar instructor since 1981.
“Pitt was the first to have a pick-style guitar/jazz guitar major” thanks to Negri, Maione recalls. “In those days academia wasn’t looking fondly on pick-style players. Mr. Negri changed all that.”
Other universities had classical guitar majors in their music departments, of course, but Negri’s presence made the study of this more popular art form legitimate, Maione says. This teaching has long since spread to other universities, thanks to Negri’s influence, he adds.
Negri also started the department’s guitar ensemble, which held its first concert in 1975.
“As a teacher he is absolutely insightful,” Maione says. “He knows how to impart information to students at all levels — he could find the little things to totally turn the student around, from the angle of holding a pick or the neck of the guitar, to the musical phrasing.”
One of his most effective teaching methods is the demonstration of technique, Maione said. “He is so melodic, so expert — it was inspirational just to hear him play.”
“He is totally supportive of his students,” Maione adds — both in his teaching and as they are starting their careers.
To this day, Maione can only refer to him as “Mr. Negri,” he says. As for replacing Joe Negri at Pitt — that’s just not a word we should use either, he says. “He’s one of the best human beings I’ve known in my life. He’s the nicest guy in the world.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.