Joe Negri Remembers Johnny Smith

Tuesday, 18 June 2013 06:13 AM Written by 

With Johnny Smith July 1999

Joe Negri met Johnny Smith in the 40's.  A decade later, busy in Pittsburgh working at KDKA and doing local clubs, dances and society engagements, Joe pondered moving to New York to work in Manhattan's busy broadcasting and recording studios, as friends like Smith and Tony Mottola did.  The above photo (courtesy of Joe, who owns it), was taken during Smith's 1999 visit to Duquesne University.

When he traveled there with wife Joni in 1958 to survey the landscape, he reacquainted himself with Smith.  In the end, he opted to stay in Pittsburgh but has fond memories of his friend and shared some in an email.

"He treated me beautifully always ... even when I was thinking about going to New York City. He came to the Duquesne Guitar Camp a few years  back, he had stopped playing then. Still the warm and friendly Johnny. A beautiful guitar player ... technique like I've never seen before or since.  He wasn't a hard swinger or bebopper, but what a musician. There wasn't much that he couldn't do. He played Bach (with a pick) and good. Back in his New York studio days he was more an arranger .. also a hell of good trumpet player.  Talk about versatile--that was his middle name."

"He was just a beautiful guy, guitarist and musician ..."

Negri never met Django Reinhardt during his sole trip to America in 1946 to perform with Duke Ellington's Orchestra, but Smith did. He even hung out with the Gypsy jazz guitar great.  Here, Smith remembers one bit of that experience.


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