When Aaron and Stefan González’s father died in March 2022, it was somewhat unexpected even though he had been in bad health. A longtime educator and world-renowned trumpeter, Dennis González
had always been able to manifest his internal spirit in his music, striving to see what he described as “past the physical to the spirit that pervades the body and this world that we see physically.” Aaron says they weren’t expecting it to happen when it did. Nobody does.
“I'm so sorry to inform you all, family, friends, fans of the music, fellow creatives that our father, grandfather, husband, force of love and light, educator, musician, artist, and beloved Shaman, Dennis González has left this plane of existence,” Stefan González posted on Twitter in March 2022. “He didn't do it without a fight and was channeling positivity until the very end. I'm crushed but in the end we must remain strong for each other.”
Shortly after their father died, Stefan and Aaron started thinking about their father’s musical legacy, which included more than 35 albums. They were feeling the outpouring of love from a community celebrating their father’s life and musical contributions to the world. "What would be really cool, really important?" Aaron wondered. They wanted to do some kind of musical project to pay tribute to their father.
They call the project the Dennis González Legacy Band, and they’ll be playing their first show in celebration of their father’s profound impact and prolific career on Father’s Day at The Kessler Theater as part of Homage Nation: The Life and Music of Dennis González
“Who better to preserve our dad’s music?” Aaron says. “We know exactly what it should sound like.”
Dennis Gonzalez's children played with him plenty through the years, such as in the renowned free jazz band Yells at Eels. Stefan is a drummer and Aaron is a bass player. All musicians have earned Dallas Observer
Aaron stresses that the legacy band isn’t necessarily one particular band they've joined in order to cover Dennis Gonzalez's music. He and Stefan will be directing a band playing their father’s music. The lineup is the moving variable, an ensemble consisting of talented musicians with a connection to their father and the music.
For the Father’s Day show, Aaron and Stefan tapped bassist Drew Phelps, drummer Gerard Bendiks, guitarist Gregg Prickett, saxophonist Jason Jackson, trombonist Gaika James and trumpeter Chris Curiel. They’ll be showcasing tunes such as “Namesake,” "Document for Toshinori Kondo,” “Hymn for Julius Hemphill,” “Namesake” and others from his albums as well as those by Yells At Eels.
“My dad played with a lot of people, and there would be a lot of people who would be appropriate to interpret my dad’s music,” Aaron says. “This is the first and what we are hoping to be ongoing.”
They wanted to host the event at The Kessler because the theater has always been supportive of their father and their family in general, Stefan says, adding that they grew up down the street from the theater. They wanted to keep it the spirit of the “vibe of the neighborhood.”
The siblings mentioned their idea to Jeff Liles, the artistic director at The Kessler Theater, whom Stefan says was immediately supportive and came up with the idea that they should host the show on Father’s Day.
Once the date was determined, Stefan and Aaron began working on the ensemble for the legacy band. They had a rough idea of the players and put together separate lists of the musicians who had played with their father.
“Everyone on the bill had a special friendship and musical kinship with my father,” Stefan says.
Most of the musicians live in North Texas, except for Jackson, who lives in Houston. Aaron says they had scheduled multiple rehearsals for the upcoming show but points out that his father’s music wasn’t especially difficult. Stefan says their father “didn’t like to be flashy or play super-complicated songs.”
His music, Stefan says, is “more universal and an easy board for improvisation.”
“Anyone who was a fan of my father, locally or Texas-wide, will get a slice of history,” Stefan says.
The siblings selected around 20 songs to play. They didn’t want them to all be ballads but instead searched for ones that would make a high-quality musical program.
“My dad did a lot of tributes and hymns and documents,” Aaron says. “He did tributes to all sorts of people and things and a large amount of tribute to his family or musicians that he admired, so that is where you get all the documents and hymns.”
One of those tributes, “Hymn for Julius Hemphill,” was González’s ode to the legendary saxophonist who spent some time in Texas and was a great influence on him. Aaron says their father played the hymn extensively in the ’90s and revived the song when they started playing with him in Yells at Eels.
“A good 90% of the concerts ended with us doing a rendition of 'Julius Hemphill,'” Aaron says. “If you ever saw us play, it’s highly likely that you saw it. And that has to be the end song [on Father’s Day].”