Music: School of Rock Turns it Up a Notch

Miami’s Own Cleaveland Jones Takes Over the America’s Loudest Institution

Anybody who’s seen Richard Linklater’s School of Rock is awesomely familiar with how inspiring music can be for kids — not to mention those who teach them. The 2003 Jack Black vehicle, which pitted a gangly group of 5th graders against an onslaught of adults in a no-holds barred Battle of the Bands competition, turned up the volume on some of culture’s most treasured tropes and made of them a very winning comic rock opera. While the flick (and its story) was reportedly unrelated to Paul Green’s School of Rock (which was officially founded in ‘98 and found its first home in ‘02), it undoubtedly paved the way for the same-named after-school program’s expansion. And, according to the most recent fact sheet, 71 School of Rock locations are now open and operating in the U.S. and Mexico.

Six of those School of Rock shops are located right here in the Sunshine State; three in South Florida alone. Of the trio though, it’s the one in Coral Springs which has caught the ear of Miami’s most with-it — with and without children of their own. Why? Because none other than Cleaveland Jones has just been appointed General Manager, that’s why. And the School couldn’t have appointed a nicer — or more talented — guy.

Or a more accomplished one either. Those in the Miami know are undoubtedly well aware of the rich, musical racket Jones has been making in our town over the past decade. This writer has said to “imagine Caetano Veloso’s bastard son, born in America’s bread basket, and raised on a steady diet of Caribbean cool,” and you’ll get an idea of what that racket sounds like. The Miami Herald has called Jones “exceptional”, and both New Times and CityLink have given him their Bests. But it was the 2011 release of Tao Jones that enabled everyone in the world-at-large to fully embrace the songman’s patented blend of globally-toned samba, reggae and soul. Just as it was that LP which raised Jones’ profile enough to earn the top slot at School of Rock.

Or was it? SunPost tracked down the music master and asked him to explain how he landed such an esteemed position, and what such a move might do for him and for his career. Here’s what he had to say:

How’d you land the School of Rock’s top spot?

The hire did not come from Miami. School of Rock is a national company that started in Chicago and has grown to over 100 schools in the US and South America, too. It turns out that a friend from college holds a high position in the company. I had not spoken with him for 20 years, but I was friends with his wife Jennifer on Facebook. My friend contacted me in June and asked me if I wanted to be a part of the School of Rock. It felt to me like the opportunity just fell out of the sky.

What all does you position entail?

I am the General Manager of the company-owned school in Pinecrest. That means I am in charge of all aspects of running the business, from AC/DC to Zappa. My responsibilities include hiring and managing staff, financial operations, marketing, customer service, and musical direction. Sometimes I take out the trash too.

Can you tell us a bit about the student ensemble you’ll be leading?

The school has “show bands” where the kids play in an ensemble led by our staff. It’s a really cool part of what School of Rock does. There are three show bands this season and each one has a distinct musical theme. I am leading a reggae and ska group called Trenchtown Rock. I was working on the set-list earlier this week and I’m getting excited about the ska part of the show which will include selections from The Specials, The English Beat, Madness, and Reel Big Fish. I’ve also been showing a reggae remake of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” by the Easy Star All-Stars. Have you heard that? It’s a great tribute to the classic.

When (and where) will the group take to the stage?

We have our summer season shows coming to Tobacco Road very soon. We’ll do a Beatles “Rubber Soul” show on September 8th and a “History of Rock” show October 6th & 7th. All of these shows start at 2pm upstairs in the cabaret. The Reggae band I’m leading and the other fall shows have not started rehearsing yet and we have not booked those performances.

How inspiring is it working with the kids?

It’s great. A lot of my job is administrative and I spend plenty of time with teachers and parents too, but working with kids and getting them involved with music is the best part of this job. Like I always say: “It’s all about the kids!”

Do you sometimes find them teaching you a lesson or two too?

The kids are amazing and I learn from them every day. Some of our students are already great musicians. I’m definitely getting exposed to some new music that I haven’t heard before. The other thing about our students is that, for the most part, they don’t suffer from the competitive attitude that is so common among professionals. They’re really just in it for the music.

How long have you been teaching anyway (and how’d it initially come about)?

I started teaching music to children at the Motivational Edge and His House Academy during the past couple of years. It was something I had been considering when Ian Welsh from the Motivational Edge contacted me about performing at a fundraiser. When I asked him what it was for he told me that it involved education and I expressed interest in getting involved with the program beyond playing music at fundraisers. I’m not sure he believed me at first, but when he called me a second time to play a fundraiser I said, “No thanks. But I am interested in getting involved as a volunteer teaching music to kids.” That’s how it started. Eventually, the volunteering led to work teaching and even pioneering an after school music program at a foster home in North Miami called His House Academy.

Was teaching always something you’ve considered?

Not really. Even though I have a degree in psychology, when I first began pursuing music seriously, teaching or administration was not an option in my mind. I really wanted to define myself solely as a musician. Teaching or other related opportunities did not interest me in the past. Something changed for me on a personal level a few years ago and that’s when I started at the Motivational Edge.

Will you still continue teaching at The Motivational Edge?

Unfortunately no. I’ve been way too busy since this job started to continue my work at Motivational Edge. ME and the opportunities it provided were instrumental in helping this opportunity come my way though, that’s for sure. There is no way I would have been ready for these new responsibilities without the experiences I had at Motivational Edge.

How will all this affect your night job?

I’ve had to turn down a few gigs in my first month at the school because I’m still getting used to the new job. But, generally speaking, it won’t affect my gigs too much. The hours are from 2 in the afternoon till 8 at night during the week and a little earlier on Saturdays. The good news for me is that I’m the one who makes the schedule.

Where are you gigging these nights?

I have a residency right now at Mister Collins at One Bal Harbor Resort. We play a happy hour set from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. The event is sponsored by Laurent-Perrier Champagne which means free champagne from 6:00 to 7:00. It’s a fun gig and it helps me to keep a band together.

Any upcoming one-offs you wanna lowdown for us?

Nothing to speak of right now. I’ve been crazy busy learning the new job and it’s a lot of responsibility. Also, having lived in Miami for 14 years, I’ve realized sometimes it’s a good plan to lay low during the summer months and re-emerge with something new in the fall.

How about recorded works — anything recent, new and/or pending?

I’m working on a new video that was recorded live at The Dungeon Recording Studio in North Miami. I have some material for an EP and would like to get started on that very soon, too.

Any thoughts on one day releasing something with the kids from School of Rock?

I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe a children’s choir a la “The Wall” would be cool?

How ‘bout a Miamicentric sequel to the Jack Black flick?

Yes! Starring John Hood as a club owner! Or maybe record label executive?

About John Hood

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