Ralph J. Gleason

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Ralph J. Gleason
Ralph J Gleason.jpg
Ralph Joseph Gleason

March 1, 1917
DiedJune 3, 1975(1975-06-03) (aged 58)
Alma materColumbia University
OccupationCritic, columnist, editor

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 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. He graduated from Columbia University (where he was news editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator) in 1938.[3] During World War II, he worked for the Office of War Information.[4] After WWII, Gleason moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and in 1950, began writing for the San Francisco Chronicle. Gleason wrote a syndicated column on jazz. Gleason hosted radio programs. Gleason cofounded the Monterey Jazz Festival. Gleason wrote liner notes for Lenny Bruce's comedy albums, and at Bruce's San Francisco 1962 obscenity trial, testified for the defense. [5]

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 DownBeat. 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.[6] 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,[7] 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 Rojo (Prestige PRLP 7193), re-released on Red's Blues in 1998.[8]

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.[9]

Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award[edit]


  • 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.


This generation is producing poets who write songs, and never before in the sixty-year history of American popular music has this been true.[10]

In a 1976 review [11] 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."[12]


  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.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ "RJG Tries Out Some New Changes". Rolling Stone. No. 63. July 23, 1970. p. 11.
  5. ^ "Ralph J. Gleason and the 'San Francisco Sound'". 8 July 2017.
  6. ^ Hinckle, Warren (March 1967). "The Social History of the Hippies". Ramparts: 5–26.
  7. ^ Jazz Casual
  8. ^ Red's Blues by Red Garland at AllMusic
  9. ^ "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.
  10. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
  11. ^ in Rolling Stone magazine
  12. ^ "Caravanserai". Rolling Stone. 8 December 1976.

External links[edit]