Fred Rogers’ warm presence on television helped scores of viewers get hooked on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and learn valuable life lessons. But there were other things that made it easy to latch on to his messages. For one thing, Rogers was a pretty ingenious tunesmith. Even when his lyrics were simple and direct, the chord changes beneath them were extremely sophisticated. It also helped that Rogers had a swinging pianist accompanying him on the show, putting all those harmonic possibilities into play.
Johnny Costa was the pianist, improvising behind the show’s dialogue, providing the immortal entrance music for the Neighborhood Trolley and making “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” sound fresh for 28 years. In 1984, he recorded Johnny Costa Plays Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Jazz, stretching out a bit on the songs he played five days a week on the show. Originally released by his boss’ independent record label, the album has become a coveted collector’s item—and now makes its CD debut.