The Stacks: The Funky Genius of Duke Ellington
He became so successful as a nightclub performer, as a songwriter, as a personality, that his serious musical efforts never got the attention they deserved.
You may not recognize Ralph J. Gleason’s name but without him, Rolling Stone magazine might not ever have existed. When publisher Jann Wenner was a pup, he idolized Gleason, the longtime jazz critic in San Francisco who also appreciated the folk and rock scenes in a way most jazz writers did not (Gleason was also one of Lenny Bruce’s great champions). Gleason took the young enthusiast under his wing and later helped raise the seed money—and come up with the title—for Wenner’s start-up magazine about rock ’n’ roll culture.
“Ralph was our eminence grise,” writes Wenner in the Foreword to Music in the Air, one of two sterling new collections of Gleason’s work published by Yale University Press due out this May. “He gave us credibility as well as contacts.” Gleason also wrote for the magazine during its nascent years, helping shape its sensibility with not just attitude but taste and authority.
Take, for instance, this tribute to Duke Ellington—“Farewell to the Duke”—published shortly after Ellington’s death. It will give you a glimpse into Gleason’s huge talent, which deserves more recognition. We hope it whets your appetite for more, in which case you must cop Music in the Air and Conversations in Jazz. Originally published in Rolling Stone, “Farewell to the Duke” is reprinted here with permission of Toby Gleason. Please enjoy one master paying tribute to another.