Ralph J. Gleason
|Ralph J. Gleason|
|Born||Ralph Joseph Gleason|
March 1, 1917
New York City
|Died||June 3, 1975 (aged 58)|
|Occupation||critic, columnist, editor|
Ralph Joseph Gleason (March 1, 1917 – June 3, 1975) was an American jazz and popular music critic. He contributed for many years to the San Francisco Chronicle, was a founding editor of Rolling Stone magazine, and cofounder of the Monterey Jazz Festival. A pioneering rock critic, he helped the San Francisco Chronicle transition into the rock era.
Life and career
Gleason was born in New York City and graduated from Columbia University (where he was news editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator) in 1938. During World War II, he worked for the Office of War Information.
In 1947, he moved to San Francisco and began contributing to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1950, initiating the first regular coverage of jazz and pop music in the mainstream US media. Gleason was the first critic to review folk, pop, and jazz concerts with the same attention and space as was given to classical music. He interviewed such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and Fats Domino. Gleason was one of the first critics to perceive the importance of Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, and Miles Davis. He wrote liner notes for a broad variety of releases, including the 1959 Sinatra album No One Cares and the 1970 Davis album Bitches Brew. From 1948 to 1960, he doubled as an associate editor and critic for Down Beat. He also taught music appreciation courses at University of California Extension (1960-1963) and Sonoma State University (1965-1967).
Gleason was both an observer and a contributor to what is sometimes termed the San Francisco Renaissance, the era of increased cultural vitality in that city which began in the mid-1950s and fully bloomed in the mid-to-late 1960s. In the later 1960s, Gleason was a widely respected commentator and he chose to write supportively of the better cut of the Bay Area rock bands, such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. However, Gleason was sometimes criticized for minimizing the importance of or simply ignoring acts from Los Angeles. But others judged that he was making a valid distinction between works of creative vitality and music business product. In any case, Gleason was a key contributor to the growth and range of San Francisco region's vibrant music scene of the 1960s and after.
Gleason was a contributing editor to Ramparts, a prominent leftist magazine based in San Francisco, but quit after editor Warren Hinckle criticized the city's growing hippie population. With Jann Wenner, another Ramparts staffer, Gleason founded the bi-weekly music magazine, Rolling Stone, to which he contributed as a consulting editor until his death in 1975. He was in the midst of an acrimonious split with Wenner and the magazine when he died. For ten years he also wrote a syndicated weekly column on jazz and pop music that ran in the New York Post and many other papers throughout the United States and Europe.
Gleason's articles also appeared other publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Times, New Statesman, Evergreen Review, The American Scholar, Saturday Review, the New York Herald Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, Esquire, Variety, The Milwaukee Journal1 and Hi-Fi/Stereo Review.
For National Educational Television (now known as PBS), Gleason produced a series of twenty-eight programs on jazz and blues, Jazz Casual, featuring Dizzy Gillespie, B.B. King, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Vince Guaraldi with Bola Sete, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Sonny Rollins, among others. The series ran from 1961 to 1968. He also produced a two-hour documentary on Duke Ellington, which was twice nominated for an Emmy.
Other films for television included a four-part series on the Monterey Jazz Festival, the first documentary for television on pop music, Anatomy of a Hit, and the hour-long programs on San Francisco rock, Go Ride the Music, A Night at the Family Dog and West Pole.
Gleason's name shows up in tribute on Red Garland's Ralph J. Gleason Blues from the 1958 recording Red Garland Quartet (Prestige PRLP 7193), re-released on Red's Blues in 1998.
Gleason's lasting legacy, however, is his work with Rolling Stone. His name, alongside that of Hunter S. Thompson, still remains on the magazine's masthead today, more than four decades after his death.
Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award
- 1990 — Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson by Allan Slutsky
- 1993 — Rhythm and the Blues by Jerry Wexler
- 1994 — Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick
- 1998 — Visions of Jazz: The First Century by Gary Giddins
- 2000 — Workin' Man Blues: Country Music in California by Gerald W. Haslam
- Jam Session (1957), G.P. Putnam's Sons
- Jam Session. An Anthology of Jazz (1958), Peter Davies Pub.
- The Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco Sound (1969), Ballantine Books
- Celebrating the Duke and Louie, Bessie, Billie, Bird, Carmen, Miles, Dizzy & Others (1975), Atlantic-Little, Brown. ISBN 0-306-80645-2
- Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews (2016), Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-21452-9. Interviews with John Coltrane, Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, Connie Kay, Sonny Rollins, "Philly" Joe Jones, Bill Evans, Horace Silver, Duke Ellington, Les McCann, Jon Hendricks.
This generation is producing poets who write songs, and never before in the sixty-year history of American popular music has this been true.
- "Don't Let the Tweed Jackets, Trench Coat and Pipe Fool You – Ralph J. Gleason Was an Apostle of Jazz and Rock with Few Peers". San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 2004.
- Talbot, David (2013). "The Daily Circus". Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love (reprint ed.). Simon and Schuster. p. 81. ISBN 1439108242.
- "RJG Tries Out Some New Changes". Rolling Stone. Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. (63): 11. July 23, 1970.
- Jazz Casual
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- Ralph J. Gleason's Jazz Casual
- Ralph J. Gleason's Sinatra liner notes
- "Joan Baez, Dylan Drop World of Folk Music for Rock'n'Roll", The Milwaukee Journal, Green Sheet, p. 3.
- Ralph Gleason interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)