W. Mifflin musician honors family, friends

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 12:37 a.m.

With the state of the recording industry being what it is today, jazz saxophonist and West Mifflin resident Jim Guerra says he knows his recently released CD, “Along Came Mitch” isn't going to make him rich.

“If you break even, you're lucky,” said Guerra, who spent 18 months recording the album featuring performances from jazz notables Sean Jones on trumpet and Roger Humphries on drums.

Guerra expects he'll sell a few copies at shows and to his students. He'll also give a bunch away to family members. But the artist said the main purpose behind the record is, simply, he's got the music.

“Everything is original,” said Guerra, who penned all 15 instrumental tracks on the disk. “I just keep writing.”

The songs are inspired by things close to the artist's heart.

The title track and closing number, “Meet MJ,” for example, celebrates the birth of Guerra's grandson Mitch, who was born in July 2011. Baby photos of Mitch and the artist are featured in the cover artwork for the CD.

Extended family also is recognized here. The song “Our Sara” refers to Guerra's aunt, who is in her 90s.

The album's primary drummer, Humphries, is paid tribute on “Roger & Regina.” Guerra said the title refers to the drummer and his wife and is a tip of the hat to Humphries' work with jazz legend Horace Silver.

A baseball fan, Guerra also salutes Pirates hitter Andrew McCutchen and team manager Clint Hurdle on the album.

“I thought about music that would fit their personalities,” Guerra said. For McCutchen, the music has a certain strut. “He ain't showing off but he's doing his thing.” For Hurdle, Guerra said he wrote a song that reminds him of someone who is “being the boss but with some manners.”

Guerra sent a copy of his CD to the team but said he has yet to hear back.

Legendary Pittsburgh jazz light Tony Mowatt is honored with two songs: “TM in the PM” and “Pickled Turnips.” The former refers to Mowatt's longtime evening shift on the former WDUQ-FM. The latter recalls a sample of vinegary vegetables Mowatt once gave Guerra.

“We always trade vegetables,” Mowatt said. “I gave him a jar of pickled turnips. He loved them so much he named a song after them.”

Mowatt said he feels honored to have inspired two songs on the CD. He featured “TM in the PM” regularly on his radio show and said Guerra doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

“He's one of the top musicians in the country, not just here in Pittsburgh,” Mowatt said. “His style is simply great music. There's a certain signature in what he does.”

Guerra, who has released two other albums, said much credit for this latest one must go to Vito DiSalvo, who co-produced the CD with Guerra and operates Mifflin Hills Music Production Studios in South Park. Others featured on the album include Guerra's son Jason and Jeff Grubs on bass, David Cutler and John D'Amico on piano, John Wilson on trumpet, Evan Broman on trombone and Tom Wendt on drums.

Guerra often writes at the piano but said ideas have come to him while he's sitting in his car and elsewhere. He keeps music staff paper nearby so he can write them down before they are forgotten.

Guerra said it's hard to explain exactly how he titles his compositions.

“It's a thought and it's a sound,” he said.

For more information about Guerra's albums, visit www.mhmproductions.biz.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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