In 1999, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust honored me by naming me the “Established Artist of the Year.” I remember telling them that my career has been a “work in progress” since age three.
As a child performer, I performed on radio and appeared in theatrical and stage productions throughout the tri-state area. I was even chosen to become one of Pittsburgh’s “Stars of Tomorrow.” A voice change shattered my confidence and I stopped performing. Shortly after, I began to seriously study the guitar.
By age sixteen, I was playing well enough to win a job with one of the country’s top swing bands. I soon became a featured member of the band and traveled nationally with them for about two years. Though the army briefly sidetracked my career, it by no means stopped it. I was fortunate enough to meet up with several top-notch jazz musicians and together we continued to develop our musical skills.
In the early 50’s, I enrolled at CMU (Carnegie Tech) and I picked up some important musical training and overall grooming. I feel very strongly that these years rounded me as a person and prepared me for the work that was still to come. Following CMU, I landed a job in the “brand new” media of television. It was the start of a forty-year career. My TV work began at KDKA-TV where I headed up my own trio and following that, I spent some twenty years at WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh’s ABC affiliate) as an “on the air performer” and musical director.
Love and Marriage
It was during this time that I met, feel in love with, and married Joni Serafini. Shortly after that, Joni and I began to seriously consider moving to NYC even though my career was beginning to take shape here in Pittsburgh. New York City has always been the mecca for artist and music was no exception. The recording studios, the major radio stations, and major TV networks represented the “Holy Grail” of the music business in the middle of the last century. Our first daughter, Lisa, was born a few years after we were married. A year or so later, we decided that we should look into opportunities in the Big Apple!
We visited with several musician friends and we surveyed the music scene closely. Even though the opportunities seemed abundant, we chose to return to Pittsburgh. The thought of raising Lisa and a family in that environment discouraged any ideas of becoming a New York studio musician.
Life has a strange way of working things out. It came to pass that the studios were to undergo a revolutionary transformation. The 60’s brought great changes to the recording industry and the TV studios. We have never regretted our decision to return to Pittsburgh.
Joe – The Guitarist
My current professional bio states that I’m one of the most recognized names in Pittsburgh music circles and perhaps one of the best jazz guitarists in the country. I started playing the guitar when I was eight years old.
As one wit remarked, “Joe Negri was playing the guitar long before it was fashionable.” My life, in many ways, parallels the history of the jazz guitar. I grew up listening to and emulating guitarists like Charlie Christian, Les Paul, and Django Reinhart. I consider myself to be a part of the second wave of jazz guitarists that came into prominence after World War II. Some of my peers included Johnny Smith, Jimmy Raney, Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass, and Kenny Burrell.
I’m known to millions of children for my appearances as “Handyman Negri” on the PBS show “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” That is a role I have played for over 30 years. As a composer, I have written music for many documentary film scores. In addition, my credits include The Crossing (scored for Brass Band and Jazz Trio).
I have just finished writing my first guitar method book. It is an introduction to improvisation entitled: “A Common Sense Approach to Guitar Improvisation.” The book will be published by Mel Bay Publications and should be ready for release early in 2001.
And so, the “work in progress” moves on into the 21st century. I pray that the music continues and that I continue to write, teach, and perform as long as I am able to do so with style and grace…