Ralph J. Gleason

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Ralph J. Gleason
Ralph Joseph Gleason

March 1, 1917
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 3, 1975(1975-06-03) (aged 58)
Alma materColumbia University
Occupation(s)Critic, columnist, editor
Jean Rayburn
(m. 1940)

Ralph Joseph Gleason (March 1, 1917 – June 3, 1975) was an American music critic and columnist. 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.[1] A pioneering jazz and rock critic, he helped the San Francisco Chronicle transition into the rock era.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Ralph Joseph Gleason was born in New York City on March 1, 1917. Gleason discovered jazz when, during a siege of measles while a student at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York, he heard Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Fletcher Henderson on the radio. He graduated from Columbia University (where he was news editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator) in 1938.[3] In 1939, Gleason co-founded Jazz Information [4] with Eugene Williams, Ralph de Toledano, and Jean Rayburn, who Gleason would marry in 1940 and have three children.[5]

During World War II, he worked for the Office of War Information.[6] After the war, Gleason settled in San Francisco, which he considered a better town for hearing jazz than New York, and began writing for the San Francisco Chronicle. Gleason wrote a syndicated column on jazz, hosted radio programs, and co-founded the Monterey Jazz Festival with James L. Lyons. He also wrote liner notes for Lenny Bruce's comedy albums and testified for the defense at Bruce's San Francisco 1962 obscenity trial.[7]

Gleason wrote liner notes for a broad variety of releases, including the 1959 Frank Sinatra album No One Cares and the 1970 Miles Davis album Bitches Brew. From 1948 to 1960, he doubled as an associate editor and critic for DownBeat. He also taught music appreciation courses at University of California Extension (1960-1963) and Sonoma State University (1965-1967).

Gleason was a widely respected commentator[according to whom?] when he began to support several Bay Area rock bands, including Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, in the late 1960s. Although Gleason was sometimes criticized[according to whom?] for minimizing the importance of or simply ignoring acts from Los Angeles, others judged[according to whom?] that he was making a valid distinction between works of creative vitality and music business product.

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.[8] 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,[9] 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,[10][11][12] for the series Fanfare,[13] episode 9, for National Educational Television, A Night at the Family Dog,[14] episode 10, for National Educational Television, and West Pole.[12][11][10]

Gleason's name shows up in tribute on Red Garland's "Ralph J. Gleason Blues" from the 1958 recording Rojo (Prestige PRLP 7193), re-released on Red's Blues in 1998.[15]

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.

On June 3, 1975, Gleason died of a heart attack at the age of 58 in Berkeley, California.[16]

Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award[edit]

Originally awarded by BMI and Rolling Stone. Currently awarded by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, and The Pop Conference.[17]


  • 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 OCLC 19838
  • 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.
  • Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason (2016), Yale University Press.


This generation is producing poets who write songs, and never before in the sixty-year history of American popular music has this been true.[18]

In a 1976 review [19] of the Santana album Caravanserai, Gleason wrote that the album affirmed, and "speaks directly to the universality of man, both in the sound of the music and in the vocals."[20]


  1. ^ "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.
  2. ^ 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 978-1439108246.
  3. ^ Katz, Jamie (June 2009). "The Jazzman Testifies". Columbia College Today. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
  4. ^ Selvin, Joel (23 December 2004). "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". SFGATE. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  5. ^ Selvin, Joel (16 May 2009). "Wife of music critic Ralph J. Gleason dies". SFGATE. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  6. ^ "RJG Tries Out Some New Changes". Rolling Stone. No. 63. July 23, 1970. p. 11.
  7. ^ "Ralph J. Gleason and the 'San Francisco Sound'". 8 July 2017.
  8. ^ Hinckle, Warren (March 1967). "The Social History of the Hippies". Ramparts: 5–26.
  9. ^ Jazz Casual
  10. ^ a b "Go Ride the Music / West Pole". AllMusic. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  11. ^ a b Boyd, Glen (7 June 2008). "Music DVD Review: – Ralph J. Gleason Presents Go Ride The Music & West Pole (Featuring Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead & More)". Blogcritics. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  12. ^ a b "Go Ride The Music & West Pole". discogs. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  13. ^ "Fanfare; 9; San Francisco Rock: Go Ride the Music". American Archive of Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  14. ^ "Fanfare; 10; San Francisco Rock at the Family Dog". American Archive of Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  15. ^ Red's Blues by Red Garland at AllMusic
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ "2022 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  18. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  19. ^ in Rolling Stone magazine
  20. ^ "Caravanserai". Rolling Stone. 8 December 1976.

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