Join me on a jazzy journey through Mister Rogers Neighborhood…
This morning I was reminded how much I love Mister Rogers (present tense), and how much that show influenced me as a kid. Fred made me the curious adult I am today. Well, Fred and Sesame Street, but I refuse to pick favorites.
I especially remember the above video, about how crayons are made. It must have had a hell of an impact to stick in my noggin after all these years, eh? But as awesome as the story of the classic Crayola 64-pack is (remember the built-in sharpener?), today I want to talk about the music.
I never realized it until now, but most of the “how it’s made” segments on Mister Rogers had no sound. That makes sense, because factories are horribly loud places and are a nightmare to film in. But listen to how the iconic Mister Rogers jazz soundtrack takes the place of sound effects! The clicks and whirrs are really just the drummer using brushes or percussion blocks. And the piano runs match the action so well!
Reminds me of the Dutch filmmaker Bert Haanstra, whose 1958 film Glas won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short. Glas features a bunch of glass-blowers doing their glass-blowing thing, but instead of live sound their motions are blended perfectly with a peppy, beat-driven jazz soundtrack. Watch it below and compare to Mister Rogers:
See the similarities? I wonder if the influence was intentional. The virtuoso pianist behind Mister Rogers iconic jazz arrangements was Mr. Johnny Costa, whose trio recorded the music live as the show was videotaped! It’s pretty progressive music for a children’s show, but I think by pushing the boundaries Rogers and Costa were able to create some really special experiences, and prove that kids have no problem enjoying complex creativity.
Here’s a short chat with Johnny Costa (man, those fingers!) about what it was like to work on Mister Rogers Neighborhood: