West Mifflin jazz saxophonist Guerra named a 'Legend'
Jazz saxophonist Jim Guerra of West Mifflin fits the definition of accomplished musician to a T.
He's performed with the likes of the Buddy Rich Band, Manhattan Transfer, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Lena Horne, Lou Rawls and many other heavyweight jazz acts.
He's a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, an instructor at Duquesne University and Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School and a recording artist whose last CD included guest appearances from jazz notables Sean Jones on trumpet and Roger Humphries on drums.
Now Guerra, 66, can add another bullet point to his résumé. This weekend, he is one of five Pittsburgh area musicians being named Jazz Legends by the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
Guerra and fellow saxophonist Kenny Blake, vocalists Michele Benson and Etta Cox, and trombonist Al Dowe are the third round of musicians to be honored by the guild. A celebration of their accomplishments will be at the guild on Saturday with an event that features a reception and music by pianist Ahmad Jamal.
What makes the honor all the more impressive is the guild is bestowing it in conjunction with the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which is adding recorded interviews of all the inductees to its life oral history collection.
“The thing I liked most is that you're picked by the jazz community,” said Guerra, who is low-key about the experience. “I just feel pretty good about it.”
Guerra said he's not sure what in particular earned him this latest honor; he says it may be his work as an educator.
“I teach jazz from the bottom up,” said Guerra, who founded an introductory jazz course for sixth graders at CAPA. Prior to that, Guerra said students had to wait until they were in eighth grade to start learning jazz. Younger players, said Guerra, “aren't afraid to take a chance.”
But on the flip side, he said, it's never too late to learn.
“I teach players who are older than me,” he said.
Guerra grew up in Hays and graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in 1964. He briefly attended Duquesne University but said he left to pursue his education at Berklee after discovering the former school's music department shunned jazz at the time.
Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Jazz associate producer Renee Govanucci said the Jazz Legends program is similar to one developed by the National Endowment for the Arts. Musicians must be living at the time of induction, actively working and have a history of mentoring others.
This will bring the total number of the guild's Jazz Legends to 20. Govanucci said all living members are expected to attend Saturday's event.
Govanucci said there have been discussions with Ken Kimery of the Smithsonian Jazz program about eventually using the recoded interviews of Pittsburgh legends on a dedicated web portal.
Guerra said his interview for the Smithsonian lasted about four hours and took in his life story and work as a teacher.
His wife Pat Guerra likes the idea her husband's story was recorded for posterity and likely will be easily accessible one day on the web.
“Our grandson can go there someday and say, ‘That's my grandpa,'” she noted.
For more information about the Jazz Legends Party at MCJ, call 412-322-0800.
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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