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Jazz Guitar Today Interview with Accomplished Jazz Musician, Joe Negri

Thomas Amoriello Jr.

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For many, their first exposure to jazz music came from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and guitarist Joe Negri. JGT contributor Tom Amoriello talks to Dr. Joseph Negri.

During the final quarter of the 20th century for many children, their first exposure to jazz music, the guitar, or even a music store came via Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood PBS television show.  As Handyman Negri or the owner of Negri’s Music Shop in “Make Believe” little did children or even parents know that Joe Negri was an accomplished jazz musician in the Pittsburgh area.  Jazz Guitar Today would like to thank Dr. Joseph Negri for this exclusive interview. 

Joe Negri on guitar.

JGT: Your method book, A Common Sense Approach to Improvisation for Guitar from Mel Bay Publications is one of your contributions to the jazz guitar world beyond your recordings and performances.  Obviously, there is a desire in the jazz community to acquire knowledge of extended chord voicings.  Please discuss the importance of learning and refining the “basic” triads and inversions for beginners before they speak the advanced language?

I believe that the triadic approach to learning the fingerboard is a very thorough way to learn to visualize and see the guitar fingerboard….I learned to use the triads from my first teacher Vic Lawrence  I developed a much more sophisticated and thorough look at the fingerboard in The Common Sense Approach to Improvization…. I focus on utilizing the triads to create melodic lines.

JGT: In the current online Zoom universe musicians live in, you have been comfortable on television in front of cameras for half a century.  Any advice for camera shy musicians that helped you overcome any fears or insecurities when Mr. Rogers first asked you to be a handyman? 

I have never had a problem with connecting with my audience..  I started performing when I was very young and have been a bit of a performer and musician most of my life. I can only tell shy people to know their material and know what they would like to present and take some deep breaths and present it.   

JGT: All guitarists hope to be blessed to be making music as 90 year olds,  please tell Jazz Guitar Today readers you current guitar routine when at home? Any advice that keep the fingers and mind nimble?

Well, I honestly have to tell you that I have slowed up a bit in the past year or so.  Prior to that I utilized my knowledge of scales and triads to exercise my fingers. Most of my time I would spend on creating new solos for the guitar.

JGT: In recent years we have been reintroduced to the important work of Fred Rogers through documentaries and movies about his life.  What did your talented piano playing friend Mr. Rogers think about your instrument of the guitar when the two of you were not in the spotlight?

Fred was a very versatile musician and composer. He and I had that in common. He liked the guitar very much and would use me with it as much as possible … Negri’s Music Shop was a great vehicle for showing off the guitar.

JGT: You have received an Honorary Doctorate of Music Degree and have taught jazz guitar at three prominent universities in Pittsburgh during your career.  What did you enjoy most about your career as an educator?

I enjoyed mostly working with the young students and being able to pass along my knowledge and experience to them. 

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