PHOTOGRAPH BY RAFAEL TONGOL
Jesse Cutler is not, we assume, the first artist ever to be so inspired by Winter Park’s ambience that he composed music in the city’s honor. But he is, without question, the first former boy-band rocker, Broadway performer, Grammy-winning arranger and — gasp! — Playgirl centerfold to do so.
Music of Winter Park is an instrumental CD that encompasses 10 classically tinged, jazz-infused compositions that reflect Cutler’s impressions of all things Winter Park, including Rollins College, Park Avenue and the city’s 130-year heritage.
Cutler, a fulltime Winter Park resident since the late 1990s, released the CD on his own Gourmet Records label. It’s available at several local retailers and can be downloaded from the usual places, such as iTunes, Spotify and iHeart Media. For every $13.99 CD purchased, $1 goes to the Second Harvest Food Bank.
“Winter Park kind of exists in its own bubble,” says Cutler, 65, a genial character whose sandpaper speaking voice reflects a pronounced Long Island accent. “Everybody who lives here or visits here has their own, unique experience. My experience is reflected in this music, which I wanted to share.”
Cutler, born Louis Milo Gibaldi, is a musician, actor, pro-ducer and entrepreneur. Although he’s had several shots at mainstream stardom, he confesses that at times he was his own worst enemy.
In a 2008 book, Starlust: The Price of Fame, Cuter candidly admits the misjudgments — sometimes a by-product of cockiness — that kept him from the kind of high-profile career that some of his friends enjoyed. (One of those friends, Paul Shaffer, the bandleader best known for his long stint on The David Letterman Show, wrote the book’s introduction.)
In Starlust, the thrice-married Cutler describes a life in which he was driven to succeed, and quick to avail himself of the perks that come with being a performer: parties, women, money, women, adulation and women.
Regrets? He’s had a few. That’s why Starlust is, in large part, a tell-all cautionary tale. In it he writes: “I have often wondered how my own demons, the ones that said that I wasn’t good enough to be famous, got in the way and made me sabotage myself — even when it didn’t look like I was the one doing it.”
Relaxing in the lounge of the Alfond Inn on a chilly January afternoon, Cutler says he’s concerned with young, would-be stars who don’t, as he did, survive their mistakes and go on to build happy and successful lives.
“There are so many traps to avoid,” he says. “The book talks about what it takes to succeed, and asks young people if they’re prepared to pay the price.”
For Cutler, a musical prodigy, the adventure began when he was 13. “We started a band,” he says. “I recruited two Jewish kids from Brooklyn, and my dad was our manager.”
Cutler’s dad, a retired investment banker, bought the group all the requisite equipment and even came up with a gimmick. “He looked at what was popular and said, ‘We’re going to go the clean route,’” recalls Cutler, whose stage name became Lou London.
In response to the British Invasion bands, including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones — who horrified adults with their shaggy hair, rebellious tone and unabashed sex appeal — Cutler and his barely pubescent bandmates were dressed in business suits and dubbed the Young Executives.
“We were the first boy band,” Cutler says. “And we were the youngest boy band in history.”
Although the Young Executives rate only a footnote — if that — in rock ‘n roll history, they had a little success and a lot of fun. The group was signed to Mercury Records in 1964 and released a rollicking single — Everybody Do the Duck — that snuck onto the Billboard charts.
The lyrics — “Everybody do the duck! Quack, quack, quack, quack!” — were silly, but the tune had an irresistible hook and the talented trio could really play and sing. The Young Executives appeared on American Bandstand, The Merv Griffin Show, Hullabaloo and Shindig.
The group also started playing star-studded private parties and fundraisers alongside such pop culture icons as Andy Warhol, Liza Minelli, Sammy Davis Jr., Barbra Streisand, Anthony Newley and Joan Collins. They even rubbed elbows with John Lennon and Mick Jagger.
Although the band broke up, Cutler continued performing while attending prep school and Hofstra University. While still a student, he and Ricky Shutter, a fellow Young Executive, auditioned for another youthful Long Islander who was writing the score for a show called Godspell, which had been presented as a non-musical play at LaMama, a small experimental theater on New York’s Lower East Side.
The show had caught the attention of producer Edgar Lansbury (brother of Angela Lansbury) and his partners, who thought it ought to be a musical and move off Broadway. The tunesmith was, of course Stephen Schwartz, who would become a Broadway legend through Godspell, Pippin and Wicked.
Schwartz hired Shutter and Cutler, who says he “didn’t know who this kid was; it felt more like he was auditioning for us.” Cutler went on to play guitar, sing and co-arrange the score. He also persuaded Schwartz that the music, which was written to emphasize the piano, should be mostly guitars.
“A musical? It’ll close in two weeks,” Cutler recalls his dad predicting. Godspell, however, was an off-Broadway smash. It later moved to the Great White Way, where it continued its historic run — and where Shaffer joined the band on keyboards.
Cutler appeared in 800 Godspell performances. And when the original cast album was released in 1972, he shared a Grammy for best score. The album went platinum and spawned the hit single “Day by Day,” which spent 90 weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at No. 13. A film version was released in 1973, but by then Cutler had left the show.
Feeling he had gotten all the mileage he was likely to get from Godspell, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a solo recording career. He was signed by Brut Records, a division of the fragrance company Fabergé, and recorded several albums. From there he moved to United Artists, only to be dropped from the roster after EMI purchased the company.
But, at a fit and frisky 28, he still had the attributes needed to land a gig as a Playgirl centerfold. Yes, you can still find copies of the 1979 magazine, the cover of which features Christopher Reeve in Superman attire, on eBay.
“I had a girl tell me, ‘I’ll bet you can’t get a real job,’” Cutler recalls. “I took her up on it. I found an ad that said ‘seeking sales for sports, TV, movies.’ I’d been a performer, and that was nothing but sales. I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
He carved out a successful career in media sales and founded two magazines, Medical Digest and Restaurant Tour, which he sold in the early 1990s for seven figures.
He also produced a TV show called The Singles Connection, and launched what he believes was the first music aerobics package, Disco Diet-Dance Yourself Slim. The exercise videos ignited a craze that caught the attention of Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons.
No longer needing to chase mainstream pop stardom, Cutler began recording for his own label, releasing sometimes quirky but, to him, meaningful projects. One was a 12-CD compilation, with each CD dedicated to a sign of the zodiac.
He moved to Winter Park in 1998 and is president of The Cutler Edge, a multimedia marketing and promotions company. And he says he can make you a star, if you have enough money — and enough talent — to open the right doors.
“It’s all who you know,” Cutler says. “In L.A., when I meet somebody trying to break into show business, the first thing I ask is ‘Who’s your manager?’ That tells me how far you’ll go.”