Local music man aims to share lifelong fascination
By Cassy Fiano
Dennis Klee describes his life as a long musical journey: “Music is the love of my life,” he said.
Originally from Buffalo, New York, he went to college at Notre Dame and knew right away what he wanted to do: record his own songs. So he got to work in the restaurant industry, making money to open his own recording studio. Eventually, he was able to open his studio, put together a band and released two albums of his own music.
But a life of touring with a rock band had to take a backseat when his wife got pregnant with their first child. It also would lead to the business venture Klee is famous for on the First Coast.
“I took the two things I knew how to do, which is restaurants and music, and I put them together,” he explained. “It became the restaurant chain Harmonious Monks.”
Harmonious Monks combines both food and music, with a wait staff that provides the entertainment each night. The restaurant opened in 1995, but after 18 years, that began to wear on him, too. He realized he wanted to stay in the music industry, but with a less crazy lifestyle.
“Nineteen years of that, being there until four in the morning, seven days a week, cleaning up the credit cards and kicking out the drunks, it takes a toll,” he admitted.
So with that, Klee’s Music was born.
At Klee’s Music, there are five classrooms where they teach everything from drums, guitar and piano to trumpet, violin and saxophone. They have instruments for kids who play in their school bands and also offer a rehearsal hall that rents out for $25 an hour. The control booth overlooking the rehearsal hall will eventually be turned into a recording studio.
“There’s nothing in St. Johns County like this,” he said.
And while he has his hands in every facet of music, there’s one thing in particular that he loves the most: writing music.
“I think it’s my best gift,” he said. “You just find something you do well — and that you love — and it’s not work.”
So once the recording studio opens, Klee’s Music will begin offering songwriting classes, as well as instruction on how to record an album. It’s something that he loves to do himself, both playing and recording. He found his inspiration in the Beatles.
“It was their harmonies, the complex chord structures that they did versus everybody else,” he explained. “So I learned how to do it.”
It’s also something that adults can still learn to do as well, if they’re interested. The students at Klee’s Music range from children to adults, which is the way Klee likes it; he feels that one can never be too old or too young to play music.
And even if your future is not in music, Klee still firmly believes that it’s a valuable life lesson for everyone.
“There’s a certain escape that comes from music. Music is like the best drug in the world, because it changes your mood. It allows you to empathize, it opens up your heart, it makes you want to celebrate, it can make you cry. It is the quintessential doorway to your humanity,” he said. “Kids who are trained in music do much better in school because there’s something about music that translates into achieving well in life.”
But he especially hopes to reach out to the children and teenagers of the St. Johns County community. He plans to set up a community bulletin board to help bring them all together.
He explained, “I’m going to set it up to where local kids can come up and jam with each other, and hopefully get 25 or 30 kids that can meet each other, maybe make a band and play in a safe environment where they can grow. Maybe I can coach the next band out of Jacksonville to national stardom.”
Dennis Klee at his store in St. Johns, Klee’s Music. Photo by Marcia Mazzoni