Fred Rogers gets unfairly pegged as a square, and I can see why: the dorky sweaters, aw-shucks Jimmy Stewart demeanor, soft-spoken ethics lessons …. I mean, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was no Yo Gabba Gabba, right?
Wrong. It was better. True, the man himself may not have been a style icon. And he didn’t have a hip, flashy stage show (though he does have his own amusement park ride). He knew what worked for him and didn’t try to be anything he wasn’t. But he had a very adventurous sensibility. For one thing, he gave horror auteur George Romero his first job. And when it came to music, Mr. Rogers was determined to bring his young viewers the very best, whether that meant taking breakdancing lessons from a 12-year-old or showcasing the experimental weirdness of early electronic musicians Bruce Haack and Esther Nelson.
But Rogers’ true love was jazz—his show was full of it thanks to longtime musical director Johnny Costa and an ensemble that included guitarist Joe Negri. In the episode above from 1986, Rogers meets up with jazz trumpet great Wynton Marsalis at Negri’s neighborhood music shop. They chat—in Rogers’ inimitably soothing way—about the importance of practice and the role emotions play in making music. Then they’re joined by Costa, Negri, and the rest of Rogers’ house band to play “It’s You I Like.”
The clip will surely be a treat for fans of Marsalis, then in his 20s, and only a year away from co-founding the now world-famous jazz program at Lincoln Center. And it’s of course a treat for fans of Mr. Rogers, who already know how cool he really was.