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.