An Appreciation of Ralph J. Gleason

City Lights welcomed Toby Gleason to celebrate the release of two books: Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason and Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews, both edited by Gleason and both published by Yale University Press. He was joined by Al Young.

Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason collects in one volume the best cultural criticism and music writings from Gleason. With a foreword by Jann Wenner and introduction by Paul Scanlon, the book collects the best of his essays, interviews, liner notes, correspondence, and books in sections covering Jazz and Blues; Folk, Rock, and Pop; Comedy; and Politics and Culture.

The co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine, Ralph J. Gleason was among the most respected journalists, interviewers, and critics writing about popular music in the latter half of the twentieth century. As a longtime contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, Down Beat, and Ramparts, his expertise and insights about music, musicians, and cultural trends were unparalleled, whether his subject was jazz, folk, pop, or rock and roll. He was the only music journalist included on President Richard Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List,” which Gleason himself considered “the highest honor a man’s country can bestow upon him.”

This sterling anthology, edited by Gleason’s son Toby, himself a forty-year veteran of the music business, spans Ralph J. Gleason’s four decades as popular music’s preeminent commentator. Drawing from a rich variety of sources, including Gleason’s books, essays, interviews, and LP record album liner notes, it is essential reading for writers, historians, scholars, and music lovers of every stripe.

Two-time Grammy Award winner Ralph J. Gleason (1917–1975) was the author of numerous articles and three highly regarded books on music as well as an acclaimed TV and documentary film producer. Toby Gleason is a veteran jazz radio producer, programmer, and host, and a former assistant editor at Rolling Stone.

Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews brings together for the first time rare and never-before-seen interviews between Ralph Gleason and fourteen of the greatest jazz musicians. These informal sessions, conducted mostly in Gleason’s Berkeley home, have never been transcribed and published in full until now. With a foreword and introductory noted by Ted Gioia, this collection gathers in one place remarkably candid conversations with many of the jazz greats of the twentieth century, from Coltrane to Parker to Mingus and Gillespie.

During his nearly forty years as a music journalist, Ralph J. Gleason recorded many in-depth interviews with some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. These informal sessions, conducted mostly in Gleason’s Berkeley, California, home, have never been transcribed and published in full until now.

This remarkable volume, a must-read for any jazz fan, serious musician, or musicologist, reveals fascinating, little-known details about these gifted artists, their lives, their personas, and, of course, their music. Bill Evans discusses his battle with severe depression, while John Coltrane talks about McCoy Tyner’s integral role in shaping the sound of the Coltrane quartet, praising the pianist enthusiastically. Included also are interviews with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, Jon Hendricks, and the immortal Duke Ellington, plus seven more of the most notable names in twentieth-century jazz.

Toby Gleason is the son of Ralph J. Gleason.

Al Young is a poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, educator, and former Poet Laureate of California. Muriel Johnson, Director of the California Arts Council declared: “Like jazz, Al Young is an original American voice.” Mr. Young’s has produced numerous novels, collections of poetry, essays, and memoirs. His work has appeared in literary journals and magazines including Paris Review, Ploughshares, Essence, The New York Times, Chicago Review, Seattle Review, Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz & Literature, Chelsea, Rolling Stone, Gathering of the Tribes, and in anthologies including the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, and the Oxford Anthology of African American Literature.

 

Barbaric, Vast & Wild

City Lights celebrated the release of Poems for the Millennium, Volume 5: Barbaric Vast & Wild: An Assemblage of Outside & Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present, with an event featuring readings by editor Jerome Rothenberg, joined by guest readers Jack & Adelle Foley, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, & Julie Rogers.

BARBARICBarbaric, Vast & Wild is a continuation and a possible culmination of the project that began with Jerome Rothenberg’s Technicians of the Sacred in 1968 and led to the first four volumes of Poems for the Millennium in the 1990s and 2000s. In this new and equally groundbreaking volume, Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman have assembled a wide-ranging gathering of poems and related language works, whose outside/outsider and subterranean/subversive positions challenge some of the boundaries to where poetry has been or may be practiced, as well as the form and substance of the poetry itself. It also extends the time frame of the preceding volumes in Poems for the Millennium, hoping to show that, in all places and times, what the dominant culture has taken as poetry has only been part of the story.

Divided into four “books” – Visions, Voices, Extensions, and Performances – Barbaric Vast & Wild brings together on a global and historical scale – from the paleolithic caves to the immediate present – works from the hieratic and sacred to the mundane and the radically transgressive and politically subversive. The range here is enormous: Egyptian pyramid texts, biblical prophecies, pre-Socratic poet-philosophers, Buddhist wanderers and “divine madmen,” along with poems and related language works from dialects and “nation languages,” thieves’ cants and other argots or vernaculars, working class and lumpen poetries, popular and newspaper poetry, sermons and rants, glossolalia and glossographia, slogans, graffiti, private writings (journals and diaries) or semi-private (correspondence, blogs, or social-networkings), and the “art of the insane” (Art Brut) that marked the early turning of avant-garde artists and poets to the idea of an “outside” poetry and art.  The work as a whole may be taken as another step toward what the editors have called an “omnipoetics” and an “anthology of everything.”

John Freeman

John Freeman joins Oscar Villalon in conversation to celebrate Freeman’s new literary venture, Freeman’s: The Best New Writing on Arrival, from Grove Press.freeman's

A new anthology from renowned literary critic, former Granta editor, and NBCC president John Freeman, Freeman’s: Arrival features never before published stories by Haruki Murakami, Louise Erdrich, Dave Eggers, Etgar Keret, Lydia Davis, David Mitchell, and others.

We live today in constant motion, traveling distances rapidly, small ones daily, arriving in new states. In this inaugural edition of Freeman’s, a new biannual of unpublished writing, former Granta editor and NBCC president John Freeman brings together the best new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry about that electrifying moment when we arrive.

Strange encounters abound. David Mitchell meets a ghost in Hiroshima Prefecture; Lydia Davis recounts her travels in the exotic territory of the Norwegian language; and in a Dave Eggers story, an elderly gentleman cannot remember why he brought a fork to a wedding.

End points often turn out to be new beginnings. Louise Erdrich visits a Native American cemetery that celebrates the next journey, and in a Haruki Murakami story, an aging actor arrives back in his true self after performing a role, discovering he has changed, becoming a new person.

Featuring startling new fiction by Laura van den Berg, Helen Simpson, and Tahmima Anam, as well as stirring essays by Aleksandar Hemon, Barry Lopez, and Garnette Cadogan, who relearned how to walk while being black upon arriving in NYC, Freeman’s announces the arrival of an essential map to the best new writing in the world.

Oscar Villalon is the Managing Editor of ZYZZYVA. He is is the former book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. His reviews have appeared on NPR.org and KQED’s “The California Report.”