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Ralph J. Gleason

Ralph J. Gleason
File:Ralph J Gleason.jpg
Born Ralph Joseph Gleason
March 1, 1917
New York City
Died June 3, 1975(1975-06-03) (aged 58)
Berkeley, California
Nationality American
Occupation critic, columnist, editor

Ralph Joseph Gleason (March 1, 1917 - June 3, 1975) was an influential American jazz and pop 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.[1]

Life and career

Gleason was born in New York City and attended Columbia University. During World War II he worked for the Office of War Information.[2] 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. His liner notes for the 1959 Sinatra album No One Cares and later for the 1970 Davis album Bitches Brew set the standard for the form.

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 until his death in 1975. For ten years, he also wrote syndicated weekly columns on jazz and pop music, which ran in the New York Post and many other papers throughout the US and Europe. For twelve years, he was an associate editor and critic for the leading jazz publication, Down Beat.

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,[3] 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, would be his work with Rolling Stone. His name, alongside that of the late Hunter S. Thompson, still remains on the magazine's masthead today, more than three decades after his death.

Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award



This generation is producing poets who write songs, and never before in the sixty-year history of American popular music has this been true.[4]


  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, article from San Francisco Chronicle: Thursday, December 23, 2004
  2. ^ "RJG Tries Out Some New Changes". Rolling Stone (Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.) (63): 11. July 23, 1970. 
  3. ^ Jazz Casual
  4. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 

External links

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