Meet the jazz musician behind the Oak Cliff Cultural Center’s free music program

Gonzales performs with Yells At Eels at a Sofar Sounds concert in Deep Ellum.
Gonzales performs with Yells At Eels at a Sofar Sounds concert in Deep Ellum.

Editor’s note: This post was written by guest writer Will Maddox, a Woodrow Wilson High School teacher who contributes to our Lakewood/East Dallas publication. This week, his subject has some special ties to Oak Cliff, too.

“Music is a healing force, a language that can be learned and communicated at deeper levels of human experience. It is thought made three dimensional, molecules in midair forming patterns and touching the heart somehow.”

These metaphysical musings are those of Dennis Gonzalez, a gifted new addition to the family at Woodrow Wilson High School. When Gonzalez isn’t teaching French at Woodrow, he is busy as a professional musician and running a non-profit music education program out of the Oak Cliff Cultural Center.

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“I remember from a young age watching my parents teach, and I guess I understood way back then that in teaching, we continue to learn, and I love to learn. I am intrigued by the world, the universe, and it’s a mysterious and miraculous place.”

There, Gonzalez launched La Rondalla, which is the Spanish word for a musical ensemble of stringed instruments. It’s a non-profit music school that operates with the help of Big Thought, a Dallas arts funding entity. Housed in the Oak Cliff Cultural Center, the program has five faculty members and is teaching 75 students for free in acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, drums, and voice. Gonzalez has leveraged this program to plugging students into planning for their future. In fact, Big Thought paid to take 15 students to Washington D.C. to learn about the government and to attend workshops for college planning and to learn how to incorporate music into their education. (The Advocate recently wrote about the efforts to recoup lost funding to the program. Fortunately, the Kickstarter campaign was a success, and the school now has funding through the spring.)

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The La Rondalla Advanced Group after recording the Kickstarter CD in early January 2014, with their teacher Kenny Withrow.
The La Rondalla Advanced Group at OCCC

Gonzalez hails from the Rio Grande Valley, and grew up in an educational and musical family. His mother was a career teacher, and his father was a Dallas ISD principal. His brother is currently the Dean at St. Mark’s here in Dallas. His mother played the piano at church, and he picked up the trumpet at a young age and has been playing ever since. Music and teaching continue to play a large role in his life today.

Gonzalez keeps the big picture in mind while teaching. “I remember from a young age watching my parents teach, and I guess I understood way back then that in teaching, we continue to learn, and I love to learn. I am intrigued by the world, the universe, and it’s a mysterious and miraculous place.”

When Gonzalez is not teaching French or running the non-profit, he is playing the cornet with his two sons Aaron and Stefan in his Dallas based Jazz trio, Yells At Eels. Gonzalez, who passed on his love of music to his sons, has traveled the world as a jazz musician, but decided to take a break due to the toll the schedule took on his life and family. When his sons, who had been touring the country with their own hardcore punk band, approached him about forming a jazz trio, he jumped at the opportunity.

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Yells at Eels is “a raucous, vibrant, energetic jazz trio that is filtered through the feel of heavy metal drums with a punk bass player playing a stand-up acoustic bass,” says Gonzalez. They are energetic and full of passion, played just as every other aspect of Gonzalez’ life is lived. Recently, they have recently played shows at All Good Café, the Dallas Museum of Art, and Crown and Harp Pub.

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