Musician Irene Monteverde plays the piano

Artist to Watch: Reni Monteverde

Tue, Aug 7, 2018

Written by: Lily Rybarczyk

Artists to Watch shines the spotlight on emerging local artists.

A Note From Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement Team

We first heard Reni perform at last year’s University of Pittsburgh fall jazz showcase and tribute to the late composer, educator and pianist Geri Allen. Currently a part of Pitt’s graduate jazz studies program, Reni led female jazz trio, A.I.R., at this year’s Women’s History Month Celebration reception at the August Wilson Center and recently headlined a performance downtown as a part of the BNY Mellon Presents JazzLive series.

Cultural District Connections

Recently, Irene “Reni” Monteverde has performed in venues throughout downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. Last summer, she performed at the International Jazz Festival with her fellow graduate students to celebrate the contributions of Geri Allen, University of Pittsburgh’s late Director of Jazz Studies.

In July, she brought together Gary Sosias, Noel Quintana, Lou Stellute and Ralph Crewe to perform at Katz Plaza for BNY Mellon JazzLive Tuesdays. “I had so much fun because of those guys on stage. I could see the audience and they were captivated,” Reni says of their Latin/Afro-Cuban/Salsa inspired set. “To be outside, to be in the city where no doubt the saxophone, the bass, the drums, are just reverberating off the buildings, I’m sure you could hear it from blocks away.”

“For some reason that is a special spot, Katz Plaza. I think people can sense that and they just want to be a part of it,” Reni says of the free weekly Jazz event. “It was an honor for me to be on that stage; I know the lineups every summer, there are a lot of wonderful musicians.”

Meet Reni

Reni is a born and raised Pittsburgher, and though she’s heavily involved in her hometown music scene now, her path as a musician wasn’t always straight and narrow.

She grew up in the South Hills, where, at five, she started taking piano lessons from a teacher on her street. “I loved playing and I loved practicing. My mother never had to ask me to practice,” shares Reni. “But I wouldn’t call myself, at a young age, serious about it because I had other interests.”

Despite her other extracurriculars, music intertwined with Reni’s life. “What’s so interesting is that there are flashes of remembering for me. Different points in my life, looking back on it now, it all makes sense in a way,” she muses.

As a kid, Reni would drive around Pittsburgh with her Pap (her mother’s father), and he would play Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and the old time music of the ‘30s and ‘40s. “It’s one of those things where you associate that music with this beautiful experience of being under an elder’s wing and hearing stories and seeing how that music makes that person feel. So the music of that time got into my system.”

For her senior project at Chartiers Valley High School, she recorded vocals and piano for her first CD.

When the time came to attend college, Reni attended Duquesne, majoring in International Business and Marketing. She returned after studying abroad in Italy and was accepted to the music school. It was a “transformational period,” balancing a business career and a passion for which she was just becoming aware. After graduation, Reni became part of both worlds, working in finance during the day and playing gigs and taking lessons at night.

In 2011, she gave up both of her passions to move to Italy to teach English. She quit her job in finance, and sold her keyboard to buy her flight. Immersed in a new language and a new culture, Reni rediscovered her passion for music. “It sounds very romantic,” she admits, “But it became clear that music was my first passion, where I would find my greatest challenges as well as my deepest personal fulfillment. It’s like when you’re afraid to do something and it scares the living daylights out of you, but you want to do it anyway because it’s your dream, that’s what you should do. Music was that for me.”

When Reni moved back to Pittsburgh, she leaned in to her passion, becoming more involved in the Pittsburgh music community, and ultimately choosing to pursue her PhD in Jazz Studies at Pitt. Taking full advantage of the Pittsburgh arts scene, Reni has worked with too many organizations to name, on projects including summer camps at the Afro-American Music Institute, composing and producing the music for Jumping Jack Theater’s sensory-friendly performance of The Light Princess at the Trust Arts Education Center, as well as the music for two Carnegie Stage productions, Psychosis 4.48 and Eff.UI.Gents.

“Pittsburgh has pockets and organizations that like to expand the boundaries of what is art and how do we enjoy art,” comments Reni on the uniqueness of Pittsburgh. “If you allow the art to be accessible, which Pittsburgh is very good at doing, you can touch lives and that’s what it’s all about.”

Motivated by her mentors and the rich history of the music, Reni is set on sharing her passion. “What pushes me to continue to do this is that I don’t want [the history and musicianship] to be lost. I want to be able to pass on information to the next generation that was passed on to me,” she shares. She expects to complete her PhD in two years, but seems ready to embark on the daunting task of sharing such a vast amount of knowledge. “There are so many ways to serve the community with knowledge, teaching in any setting, performing, researching, as long as I’m expanding as an individual and growing. I’d like to inspire others to do the same: find their passions and build upon them.”

You can see Reni playing Friday, August 10, at the Pony League World Series in Washington, PA under the leadership of Noel Quintana.

  • local artist
  • artist to watch
  • Jazz