Mister Rogers Turns Kids On to Jazz with Help of a Young Wynton Marsalis and Other Jazz Legends (1986)

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mr. Rogers Goes to Con­gress and Saves PBS: Heart­warm­ing Video from 1969

Mr. Rogers Takes Break­danc­ing Lessons from a 12-Year-Old (1985)

Mr. Rogers Intro­duces Kids to Exper­i­men­tal Elec­tron­ic Music by Bruce Haack & Esther Nel­son (1968)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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