Joe Negri: South Hills High Hall of Famer

Monday, 09 May 2011 11:48 PM Written by 


On Saturday evening, Joe Negri, jazz guitarist (first generation bebopper, no less), regional entertainer, local TV personality and of course "Handyman Negri" of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, received another honor to the many he's received over nearly  70 years in local show business.  He was inducted into the South Hills High School's Hall of Fame.

Joe actually left South Hills in his senior year, before graduating. The local s guitar wunderkind, who'd turned professional at 16, departed after joining the nationally known Shep Fields Orchestra (known as Shep Fields and his New Music) in early 1943.  In 1950, he got his diploma as a prerequisite to entering Carnegie Mellon (then Carnegie Tech) as a composition major on the GI Bill.

Negri is still pursuing a vigorous performing schedule in the area, and these three videos provide a sort of overview of him in the past 57 years.

This 1954 video captures him with longtime friend and former Mister Rogers musical director and pianist Johnny Costa, when both were guests on pop organist Ken Griffin's syndicated TV show, filmed here in Pittsburgh. The show's co-host was Pittsburgh radio and early TV legend Sterling Yates, actually a very hip jazz musician.  In these days, Joe was already prominent, leading his trio (Dom Trimarkie, accordion and Lou Mauro, bass) on "The Buzz and Bill Show" a daily TV program starring singers Buzz Aston and Bill Hinds. It was broadcast over WDTV, KDKA's predecessor.  The tune: "After You've Gone."


From 1965, this raw video footage from WQED's Jazz Scene program captures Joe in performance. Note the funky (and inexpensive) set dressings with the late Pittsburgh trumpet great Danny Conn.  Joe's cool guitar is his 1940's custom built D'Angelico, which he used until the late 1960's until he had problems with its neck. To this day, he regrets selling it. Click Here.


This video comes from nearly a  year ago, when he played Hyeholde in Moon Township with his quartet (Max Leake, piano, Brian Stahurski, bass and Tom Wendt, drums). The song is, appropriate to his bebop roots, a Brazilian-flavored version of Charlie Parker's "Confirmation."


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