The sum of a man’s life can so often be codified within the lyrics of a song.

If I had one from my early years as an adult it would be this track from Mr. Mister.

One of my all time favorite bands for their blend of musicianship and thoughtful lyrical content and song-writing they resonated with me in my first years on my own, living in a small duplex in West Orlando (“Crime Hills” bear the intersection of Hiawassee & Silver Star to be exact).

I can remember so many mornings driving to my first true “full time gig” (as a musician in the T-Bone Brass at Epcot Center) longing time feel like I actually “belonged” in Orlando. By that I mean that I wasn’t necessarily home sick for Gainesville (I was 18 at the time and had left Santa Fe Community College when I was offered the opportunity, and won the audition, to work in this particular atmosphere group). It was more a matter of me looking around at the seemingly incredible lifestyle of those who were FROM the Central Florida area: Beautiful girls everywhere. Tons of lake front homes and water sport activities of course in abundance.

Meanwhile I lived with three other Disney musicians, all “Jazzers” of one stripe or another who’d already had their college days experiences (which I was in the process of summarily setting aside to revisit at a later date) and were completely ensconced in their heavy “dues paying” and “sessioning” portion of their musical journey. The latter referring to jam sessions in one of the two living rooms of the duplex where copious amounts of Aebersold’s (Jazz Standards), weed and libations were consumed.

As someone who didn’t smoke and really wasn’t someone they wanted to hang out with, due to how much younger I was (the origins of my nickname “Jethro” lie here) than any of them coupled with my lack of “worldly jazzer-dom” it was inevitable that I’d retreat to my room (I was too young to out to any clubs to hear music for the most part) and lose myself in the music that has come to define the core foundation of the #LoudJamz: Tracks such as “Man Of A Thousand Dances” being at the vanguard of this respite from my reality of the time.

I don’t mean to paint the picture that my colleagues were in any way bad guys. Quite the contrary, they were amazingly talented big brothers who taught me so much about music and life. The simple fact was I wasn’t even CLOSE to intellectually comparable or capable of any meaningful sustained interaction.

Such is being a big, goofy 18 year old who’s basically was formed by some years traveling to race bmx and my one year as a snare drummer on the DCI summer tour (2 years earlier at 16) with the now defunct Florida Wave Drum & Bugle Corps out of Pembroke Pines. Otherwise, I was a classic North Florida “ACR” (Alachua County Resident) who had yet to even entertain the thought that I could actually someday ATTEND The University of Florida. As an actual student that is. 😅

The saving grace of cutting oneself off from the activities of your peers (not to say I didn’t eventually get to know some folks at Disney who were my own age, namely the character department and some of the dancers) and being forced to grow up fast is you can’t help glean information and ideas on how to accelerate your professional growth. As I’ve alluded to above, my fellow bandmates were a pedigreed bunch, degrees galore from the likes of North Texas, Berklee, Indiana University, UF, FSU, University of Miami etc. and many of them had played in some of the great “revival” big bands that were still functioning in the eighties including Woody Herman’s Thunder Herd, Maynard Ferguson, Sam Rivers and the like. Suffice to say, even a “Jethro” eventually clues in on a few things here and there and I quickly learned to use my time out at the parks studying the Songs & Styles that these phenom’s espoused as truly “great” music.

Simultaneously, I’d reconnected with one of my earliest friends, from my student musician years 84-87′ over at Disney’s Magic Kingdom: Jeff Coffey. Along with me, Jeff was one of the few other student musicians who were still in high school (most of our peers in the student program came from the universities around the state of Florida). Jeff has grown up in the Zellwood/Apopka area racing motorcycle motocross, spending copious hours on the water and studying bass and trombone. It was an instant and easy friendship as Jeff is one of the most gregarious and kind individuals anyone could be fortunate enough to have as a friend.

Jeff and I shared VERY similar musical tastes as well: While we both appreciated and were coming to know about the greats of the jazz canon such as “Bird”, Miles, “Trane”, Duke & Ella we were still at our core true pop music mavens: Finding common ground in a broad range of seminal 70’s-80’s artists such as The Police, Toto, Steely Dan, Genesis, The Fixx and of course the focus of today’s ramblings: Mr. Mister.

Little known to me at the time was the fact that Jeff was a PHENOMENAL singer. I mean, I had no idea back in those days and I don’t believe he really knew either yet. To the point that we searched for “lead singers” for our early band projects. The thought makes me just shake my head in wonder as fast-forwarding thirty years Jeff has gone on to be the lead singer-bassist of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame artists’ “Chicago” and bassist-background vocalist for former Eagle band member Don Felder.

Jeff truly was my savior in Orlando: when we move to a new place we all need a friend who helps you to truly feel like a “local” or “belonging” to the community as I referenced at the outset. Jeff was truly a lifelong Central-Floridian and whether it was being “running brothers” putting on parties up at his families’ place in Apopka and chasing young female dancers from the other Disney groups or going out to the few places that DID allow anyone under 21 (RIP Church Street Station’s Orchid Garden) and watching some of Orlando’s most revered musicians: Rhythm Method, The Terrier Brothers, Heart Attack Diner and Sons of Doctors, Jeff and I formulated a musical bond that would span the ensuing three plus decades.

We were truly young men with a “Thousand Dreams” coursing through the recesses of our young and active minds. I am forever grateful to Jeff as my true brother and confidant in many a circuitous Journey in pursuit of those myriad “dreams”. More to that on another day though.

To be continued…