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Ralph J. Gleason

From Academic Kids

Ralph J. Gleason (1917-1975) was an influential American jazz and pop music critic. He contributed for many years to the San Francisco Chronicle and was a founding editor of Rolling Stone.

Gleason was born in New York City and attended Columbia University. At the end of the 1940s, he moved to San Francisco and began contributing to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1950, initiated the first regular coverage of jazz and pop music and 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 did interviews with such luminaries as 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.

Gleason was both an observor 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 the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. However, Gleason was sometimes criticized for minimizing the importance of or simply ignoring acts from Los Angeles.

In 1967, Gleason and Jann Wenner founded the bi-weekly music magazine, Rolling Stone, to which he contributed to 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, American Scholar, Saturday Review, New York Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Sun Times, Sydney Herald, Playboy, Esquire, Variety, and Stereo.

For National Educational Television (now known as PBS), Gleason produced a series of twenty-eight programs on jazz and blues, Jazz Casual, featuring B.B. King, John Coltrane, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Sonny Rollins, among others. 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 a two-hour performance and documentary on San Francisco rock, Go Ride the Music and A Night At The Family Dog.

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