The Michael Jazz Trio is a family affair, from left...

The Michael Jazz Trio is a family affair, from left to right David Michael, Jordan Michael, dad Michael, mother Esther and Matthew Michael Godfrey. (July 16, 2011) Credit: Heather Walsh

Each time Esther Godfrey was pregnant with her three sons she played the music of Yanni, a pianist, keyboardist and composer, and watched videos of his concerts.

As toddlers, the boys -- Matthew, David and Jordan -- tried to mimic the new-age artist's musical stylings, playing toy keyboards and drumming on upturned plastic beach buckets in their apartment in Central Islip, Godfrey, 38, said.

"It was just a bunch of noise," said Godfrey, an avid Yanni fan.

But in 2006, the boys surprised their parents by performing for the congregation at their grandfather's church in Springfield Gardens. At the time, Matthew was 12, David was 10 and Jordan was 5. With Matthew on piano, David on the drums and Jordan playing a tambourine, the siblings performed simple music they had composed and practiced in secret.

Godfrey said she was moved to tears. It was then that she and her husband, Michael, 47, said they realized their children had musical ability beyond their years.

The brothers' musicianship has improved as they've aged, and they now perform as the Michael Jazz Trio at venues across Long Island, including the Jamesport Vineyards in Jamesport, where they have two upcoming performances. In 2009, the group won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and in May they released their first CD.

"They're very, very good," said their manager, Norman Spizz, owner and chief executive of SPN Music & Entertainment in Hewlett. "I believe they have lasting power. The sky's the limit."

But their view of the future was once clouded by uncertainty.

In 2007, after complaints from neighbors about noise from the boys' drum set, the Godfreys said the landlord declined to renew the family's lease and they were evicted, forcing them from their Central Islip apartment four days before Christmas.

Pressed for a place to live where the boys could practice, the family said they used $4,500 in savings to rent -- with an option to buy -- a house in Central Islip. But the property was in foreclosure, a detail the Godfreys said they were not told of.

"It was vandalized and had no plumbing. There was no heat or electricity," said Godfrey.

Matthew, the oldest brother, remembers the cold vividly.

"We all slept in the same bed, and every single blanket that we owned was on top of us," he recalled. "We woke up Christmas morning with no tree, no decorations and no presents."

But they did a holiday performance at an assisted living residence and received gifts.

After nearly a year, bankers had the family evicted from the home in 2008 and they went to a shelter in Bellport. That was the last straw for Godfrey.

"The first night, after I got through crying, I said the only place is up, because we're at the bottom," she said.

The family stayed at the shelter for two months. The living arrangement provided housing but made practicing music difficult. The shelter had a curfew based on age; for Jordan, then 8, it was 8 p.m., so the family had to adhere to that. Their first Saturday at the shelter, the trio was to audition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. To snag one of the 300 audition spots, Michael Godfrey camped out overnight outside the theater because residents couldn't leave the shelter before 6 a.m. He got the 156th spot on line.

"We had to inch up with our equipment: the five-piece drum set, a keyboard, saxophone and amplifiers," said Matthew, the group's keyboardist. David plays the saxophone and guitar, and Jordan is the drummer.

Thirty seconds into a two-minute audition, the trio's performance was stopped and they were invited to return and perform. They won the $100 Apollo Young Stars of Tomorrow contest three times.

Meanwhile, shelter authorities had found out about the band and allowed the boys to keep their equipment in their quarters and practice in the recreation room from 7 to 9 p.m. on weekdays.

"We go back every year and play for them," said Michael Godfrey.

During the summer the boys -- Matthew is 17, David, 15 and Jordan, 10 -- practice 10 hours a day, except Sundays. Over the years they've played in a 7-Eleven parking lot and at Oheka Castle, Central Park, libraries, train stations and private parties in Connecticut and Georgia. They are repeat performers at Jamesport Vineyards.

"We had them play for the Winterfest in February and I said, 'We have to have these guys play in the summer,'" said Ron Goerler Jr., one of the vineyard's owners. "They're young guys, and the talent level is by far some of the best talent I have ever seen. The young drummer is amazing to watch. He's a great kid, he's got great talent. They're phenomenal. The fact they're brothers and they can all agree to play together, that's even better."

A band rooted in jazz fusion
The group's name was coined from Michael Godfrey's first name, which is each boy's middle name and the name of several relatives and friends who were early fans.

The boys used to attend school in the Central Islip district, but their mother has home-schooled them for the past year. Godfrey, who describes herself as a "professional mother," said she plans to teach her sons through high school, after which they will pursue their music full-time.

"It became difficult for them to handle the demand on them and a traditional school schedule," she said. The trio has about five performances a month.

The family said the boys gravitated to jazz music because of its "cool" factor and the influence of the 1980s sitcom "The Cosby Show." The brothers have never met Yanni or attended any of his shows, but they dream of performing with him someday. They describe their style as jazz fusion.

"It's the genre of music where you can do what you want and it's still jazz," said David.

Besides their own music they also play the works of John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck and other music legends.

Matthew continued mastering the piano when he was 13. Impersonating Yanni, he too can play two instruments simultaneously, in his case a bass and a regular keyboard. When Matthew was in public school he was a percussionist in the jazz, concert and marching bands at Ralph Reed Middle School in Central Islip, and was a member of the Long Island Sound Junior Drum and Bugle Corps. He was also an honor roll student and freshman class president.

David taught himself to play the baritone horn when he was 10 so he could join the Corps. He also wanted to play drums, but his mother encouraged him to learn to play her grandfather's saxophone. "He was born for it," she said. He also plays the bass guitar and the tuba.

Jordan, at 5, listened in when his brothers played in the Corps and learned by ear to play its entire program, Matthew said. "It was almost as if he had a drum player's mind."

Hopes of 'world recognition'
To shepherd their sons' musical development, the couple -- who work with developmentally disabled adults -- reduced their work hours in 2007. Michael Godfrey gave up one of two full-time jobs the same year.

Anxious to leave the shelter, the family rented a three-bedroom house in Central Islip but said they had to give it up last summer after a record deal fell through. To reduce expenses and remain available to go on tour, they live with Esther Godfrey's parents in Central Islip.

The boys said they consider themselves professionals and see no need for formal musical training, but they listen in at other musicians' jam sessions. New York for them is a start, but they want to tour overseas, their mother said, and, of course, follow in Yanni's footsteps.

"I definitely want to perform in that big place. I'm talking about the Taj Mahal; not the one in Las Vegas, but India," said Jordan. In March 1997, Yanni performed on the bank of the Yamuna River behind the famous monument in Agra, India.

Spizz, their manager, envisions "television, records, big-time stuff. I love their story, their talent, their music, and they're nice kids," he said.

But despite a musical career, they're still adolescents. The brothers like to play basketball and watch wrestling. David builds skateboards as a hobby.

Now that the future is looking brighter, the brothers all agree on what they want.

"World recognition," said Matthew. "I want our music to be known. Part of the reason for doing what we're doing is to restore good music."

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