JOHNNY COSTA
(1922-1996)

Johnny Costa, 1995

 

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Johnny Costa was the Mozart of jazz piano, although jazz legend Art Tatum, called Costa "the White Tatum." Costa, one of the world's greatest pianists, is best known for his work as the musical director of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," a beloved PBS television program for more than three decades. Costa, however, was much more than a pianist for children. A musician's musician, his work was applauded by jazz masters Benny Carter, Dave Brubeck, Tommy Dorsey, Dizzy Gillespie, Marion McPartland, Peter Nero, Andre Previn, Buddy Rich, Mel Torme, and Art Tatum, the latter being Costa's most significant influence.

Costa's first recording was "The Amazing Johnny Costa," a Savoy LP released in 1955. It was reissued on CD in 1989 as "Neighborhood." During the 1950s, Costa cut short a career that would have brought him international recognition as a pianist and recording artist. Long road trips and concerts far from home, although lucrative, did not compensate for the loss of companionship of his friends and family, the latter which included his wife, daughter and son (Helen, Debbie and John Junior). Costa stopped traveling, ended a promising recording career, relinguished his job as the first musical director of the "Mike Douglas Show," and returned to Pittsburgh, never again venturing far from its city limits.

Graduating with two degrees in music from Carnegie-Mellon University, Costa began work as a musician on a Pittsburgh television station the same day he graduated. He provided piano and organ music for many programs, eventually teaming with Fred Rogers to create the most successful children's program on television. Even after his death in 1996, Costa's piano still resounds throughout Neighborhood programs.

Thanks to Dick Hyman, who contacted Hank O'Neal at Chiaroscuro Records, Costa resumed his recording career in 1992. Costa's four recordings for Chiaroscuro—"Classic Costa," "Flying Fingers," "A Portrait of George Gershwin," and "Dream"—serve as a permanent legacy of this extraordinary musician.

Costa's last recording, "Christmas Reflections" on the L&M label, was produced by Len Meledandri, which includes holiday and religious songs Costa wanted to record. He was also a superb arranger. Referring to his chart of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," Larry Rosenthal, a pianist with Gus Arnheim, said, "It's as good as Chopin." No pianist ever played beautiful tunes better than Johnny Costa, and like George Gershwin, Costa was a man of the heart whose inner qualities were clearly revealed in his music. Helen Costa, Johnny's wife of 55 years said, "Johnny is as beautiful a person as the music he plays." And that he was.

A nonpareil talent, Johnny Costa was elected to the Hall of Fame of the Pittsburgh Jazz Society.

Please sign the guest book and check out the specially priced Costa Classics Collection—available only here at www.JohnnyCosta.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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