There is a word in Yiddish, (a Jewish language that is part Hebrew, part German, part other eastern European influences) that sums up Jon Gonzales. He’s a mensch.
A mensch is someone “of integrity and honor.” Leo Rosten, who wrote “The Joys of Yiddish,” said a mensch is “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character”.
That’s Jon. What a good guy. He’s upbeat, soulful, honest, positive … he’s just a mensch.
I’ve seen Jon for years on the softball diamond at Ragle screaming encouragement to his teammates, strumming his mini-ukulele out on the street for no-one in particular, at the Super Playground with his kids, and on various stages where his joy for music is pure and infectious.
Where and when were you born, Jon?
Bakersfield, California, 1972. I got here to Sonoma County after two years of junior college in Bakersfield. It was ’92 and I was a junior at Sonoma State, and never looked back.
A boy and three girls, 15, 12 and 9.
And then there is the lifelong grief from the death of our son, Jasper, in November of 2014.
After his death, I was less motivated to create music. Now, seven years later, just in the past few months, the creative side of my music-making has kicked in again.
Sometime next year I hope to release a new CD.
You’re a fairly well-known musician in these parts, but you’re also a longtime teacher.
I teach English at Montgomery High now, after years at Elsie Allen. I really do enjoy it. I just finished my 21st year in the Santa Rosa School District.
No matter how devoted a teacher you are, you must dream of moving to music as your full-time gig.
Only every day. But having four kids means that I need a steady paycheck.
Music certainly consumes me. We’ve got three gigs tomorrow alone; an old folks place in Fountaingrove, then a funeral memorial in the afternoon and from 6:30 to 9 at the Main St. Bistro in Guerneville. The old folks in Fountaingrove are the most attentive and appreciative. And they know all the good old-time tunes we play.
Have you always been a uke player?
Since 2008. I played acoustic guitar for 15 years before that.
Your musical heroes?
Tom Waits, U2, Willie Nelson, Nora Jones and I love Gregory Alan Isakov. He’s a real mellow singer/songwriter who has probably influenced me more than anyone.
You’re an inspirational guy, who has had a number of huge losses. What gets you through?
There’s so much beauty in this life of ours. You know, I always have 14-15 year olds in my classroom, and they give me hope. I try to enjoy every moment. And of course, music is probably the biggest thing for me.
I grew up Catholic in Bakersfield, but I belong to the Sebastopol Community Church. They’re all about action. I love that … The morning Jasper died, they were at our home within 30 minutes with food and love. They really live their faith … I love the rebelliousness of Christ — he’s a hero. He stood up and took a lot of crap for his beliefs …. I’m not into the fear of God.
Bakersfield was a really conservative Catholic area. I had to get away from that oppression. Here, I found so much tolerance, and less judgement, and of course, more music.
What schools do your kids go to?
Analy, or whatever it’s going to be called, Twin Hills and Apple Blossom.
So as a public school teacher, how do you feel about the charter schools which are draining the public schools of so many students?
I like it as an option. I’m in favor of them. They are sapping the public schools, but it’s worth it. If it works for the individual student, that’s what’s important.
So Jon, if you had an extra $20, who would you give it to?
I suppose I’d give to KRCB radio. I volunteer there.
Finally, where can people catch you in the coming weeks?
Oh man, we’ve got 17 gigs in June alone! Check out our web site at JonGonzales.com. Click shows, and away you go!
KRCB FM can be found at 91.1 on your dial or: norcalpublicmedia.org
(Jon’s got a regular show there, North Bay Songwriters, which is on the air on the first and third Thursdays of the month from 9-11pm.)