Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jazz Legend Joe Negri on Hand to Help Celebrate Guitar Day

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jazz Legend Joe Negri on Hand to Help Celebrate Guitar Day

Article excerpt

It's not every day that a legendary jazz guitarist has a master class open to the public.

On Saturday, Joe Negri will celebrate 45 years as a professor at Duquesne University with a master class from 1-2 p.m. in room 322 of the Mary Pappert School of Music, Uptown. It's part of Duquesne's guitar and bass workshop, which runs from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Also Saturday, Mayor Bill Peduto will proclaim July 21 as Guitar Day with Joe Negri in the City of Pittsburgh. It's a big honor for the man most famous as Handyman Negri on the beloved children's TV show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

Not long after joining Fred Rogers' show, Mr. Negri taught a guitar class at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1973, he founded the jazz guitar program at Duquesne. Although some colleges had guitar programs, Mr. Negri said that jazz programs were few and far between.

"If you wanted to play jazz in the school, you had to almost hide out," he said. "It was frowned upon."

A guitar and jazz were not Mr. Negri's first choices. At 8 years old, he made the switch from ukulele to guitar and has been playing ever since. Although he almost gave it up in his teens to pursue a career in sports broadcasting, he decided to stick with music. At 16, he left South Hills High School to go on tour with Shep Fields' band. He blossomed under teacher Vic Lawrence, who founded Lawrence Music in Castle Shannon in 1954.

In 1968, Mr. Negri joined the cast of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," teaching children about music and life as Handyman Negri.

"I think a lot of students that got to Duquesne or Pitt know me from the Rogers show," he said. "They liked the music and what I did with Johnny Costa and remember the handyman character."

He said that jazz played a key role in the show and effectively introduced young children to the genre. He wishes the documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" had explored the program's use of music in more detail. Mr. Rogers, who had a bachelor's degree in music composition from Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., insisted that music be an integral part of the show.

Mr. Negri has connected with many people through his music. …

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