Iconic Pittsburgh musician Joe Negri retires from Pitt
Room 124 at University of Pittsburgh’s music building won’t have that familiar sound resonating from inside.
Pittsburgh jazz guitarist and legend Joe Negri retired after 49 years teaching students how to play not only songs, but how to live their lives. Pitt held a going-away party for him Thursday.
Negri, 92, who many know from his performances on WQED’s “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a handyman, was honored by former students, faculty and friends.
“This is the end of one chapter of my life,” Negri told the Tribune-Review. “I am enjoying life. I won’t miss playing, but I didn’t want to stop teaching, but it’s time. I want to keep writing books and songs and compositions.”
Negri grew up in Mt. Washington, and currently lives in Scott. His father bought him his first guitar at age 8. He hasn’t stopped playing since. He’s performed all over the world, including when he was in the Army’ Special Services Unit stationed overseas in Belgium and France.
Negri attempted to study music at Carnegie Mellon University, but was told jazz guitar wasn’t recognized. He said he believes Pitt was the first to offer jazz guitar. He was recently recognized with the Jazz Legacy Award by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
“Fred told me not to worry because it was all make believe,” Negri said.
Ironically, Pitt’s music building was the site of the early “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” shows.
John Maione, who teaches music at Winchester Thurston School in Shadyside, was one of Negri’s first students. Maione said Negri is an incredible player, and outstanding and insightful teacher and a wonderful human being.
“I cannot imagine my life without you in it,” Maione told Negri. “Things you told me years ago still come out of my mouth. We all stand on your shoulders and the brilliance of your teaching. There’s nobody like you.”
Ryan Salisbury, who will graduate Sunday, said Negri is one of the reasons he came to Pitt.
“He can play anything and I loved learning from him,” Salisbury said. “It’s been an incredible experience.”
Negri, who said his favorite guitar is a Benedetto, has touched generations of people, said former Pitt music chair and current faculty member Deane Root. Students have benefited from knowing him and this truly is the end of an era because he was a link between how the music department was and how it is now in its modern form, Root said.
“Joe Negri radiates life as an art form,” said Root. “He crosses generations and he brings out the best in the musicians he plays with.”
Pitt music chair Mathew Rosenblum said he can’t imagine the department without Negri.
“He lights up the place,” Rosenblum said. “He is an accomplished actor, composer, and jazz legend. His dedication to teaching reaches across not only our campus but the city of Pittsburgh and beyond. Joe brought positive energy. That was the lesson. He not only taught music but was a role model for how to live your life.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .