Johnny Costa

Plays Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

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It's easy to take the warm, friendly jazz sound of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood for granted, but we shouldn't. For over three decades beginning in 1968, the Pittsburgh-born pianist Johnny Costa served as the acclaimed show's music director, often playing live in-studio while host Fred Rogers sang the theme song and interacted with beloved characters like Mr. McFeely, Lady Elaine, and the Trolley. An urbane, technically gifted jazz stylist in the vein of his own idol Art Tatum, Costa helped define the show's smart but always welcoming tone. Rogers, also a talented jazz pianist and songwriter, championed Costa and together they felt that jazz was the perfect sound to encourage the creativity of the children watching the show. Costa brought that smart, creative vibe to the fore on his 1984 studio album, Plays Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Jazz. The sixth and final release on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Records, the album found Costa playing songs from the show, all composed by Rogers himself, including the iconic opening and closing theme songs "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and "It's Such a Good Feeling." Also compelling are Costa's takes on "You Are Special," "Sometimes People Are Good/Children Can," and "Then Your Heart Is Full of Love." Joining him were his longtime rhythm section bandmates bassist Carl McVicker and drummer Bobby Rawsthorne. Together, they played in a swinging, highly articulated and lively fashion that was the epitome for sophisticated modern acoustic jazz. While the music Costa supplied for Rogers' show was never anything less than hip, it's no less impressive to hear him stretch out on these beloved songs.

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