AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
A jazz performer would step off of a Pittsburgh stage. A man with black-rimmed glasses would greet the performer and gently offer a typewritten poem. The words would be warm, romantic, tender — maybe a little wistful. And then the man, Louis “Lou Tracey” Mastracci, Jr., would fade back into the audience, hoping for nothing but the opportunity to someday hear the poem put to song.
Mr. Mastracci didn’t play an instrument and was rarely heard to sing, but others brought his words to clubs here and beyond. He stepped off of life’s stage early Thursday, when he died of pneumonia at UPMC Shadyside Hospital. He was 88.
“Sometimes he would give me these silly looking, almost small post cards, with lyrics written on them,” said veteran jazz guitarist Joe Negri, who, over four decades, wrote music to go with 35 of Mr. Mastracci’s lyrical offerings. While Mr. Negri may have been the best known recipient of Mr. Mastracci’s lyrics, they also made it into the work of Marlene VerPlanck, Dane Vannatter, Joyce Breach, Etta Cox and Maureen Budway, among others.
“He would just quietly, not push the songs on them, but leave them with them,” said Mr. Negri, whose last collaboration with Mr. Mastracci was “And the Summer Smiles,” in 2015. “Most of the times the singers would pick up on them and sing them.”
Mr. Mastracci was a fixture at area jazz shows, where he invariably wore a lapel button with the title of his best-known song, “Music Is My Best Friend.” He released four discs of his songs, performed by a variety of musicians. He also worked a variety of harmonious jobs at National Record Mart and Downtown box offices, and was legendarily difficult to stump on music trivia — especially if the answer involved Frank Sinatra.
Mr. Mastracci grew up in the Hill District, but in recent decades lived in Brookline, where he cared first for his mother, Josephine Mastracci, and then his sister, Yolanda Christofanelli.
He is survived by brothers Joseph and Richard, and was preceded by his parents and brothers Pete and Fiore, and sisters Jenny Moletz and Ms. Christofanelli.
He had a low-key personality and an offbeat sense of humor, calling nearly everyone “Fralock,” and always claiming his age was “eleventy-seven,” said Maryann Dougherty, the wife of Mr. Mastracci’s nephew, who kept in daily contact with him in recent years.
Last year, Mr. Mastracci’s songs were featured at a benefit concert at Duquesne University. For once, he got on stage, for “Music is My Best Friend.” He was surrounded by accomplished singers, but when they suddenly fell silent, his voice filled the room. "He was amazing,” said Ms. Dougherty. "None of us ever knew that he could sing.”
A Mass of Christian Burial is set for 10 a.m. today at the Church of the Resurrection in Brookline.
Rich Lord: email@example.com or 412-263-1542.
I remember Lou back in the day. I was doing some gigs with Opie Bellas and Lou would come to the gig. I remember her doing one of his tunes. RIP Lou.