Friday, September 26, 2014

Jackie Gleason

My dad may know Jackie Gleason as being Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners, and you may know him as the sheriff in the Smokey & The Bandit movies, but I know him as the man behind a strange series of super-schmaltzy muzak albums in which he neither performed, composed, nor conducted.

In a somewhat Warholian fashion, Gleason organized the recording sessions and had people compose the songs according to his directions. Sometimes he would come up with melodies in his head and hum them to his staff to transcribe; sometimes he merely gave vague instructions in bold strokes, like "make it silky." Most interestingly, as opposed to the increasingly cerebral jazz, Gleason presented his albums as "background music", something to set a mood in a room, not something to be studied or focused on. He actually went so far as to describe it as "musical wallpaper". I found this idea fascinating as a kid when I scored his albums at yard sales. I still do, in fact.

His album Lonesome Echo, by the way, sported cover artwork by none other than Salvador Dali.

Gleason was born in Brooklyn but moved to Miami in the mid-1960s - primarily, it is said, for the golfing. In addition to his many pursuits, he was an avid researcher of the paranormal, and bequeathed his sizeable collection of books and materials to the local university.

His grave can be found at Our Lady Of Mercy Cemetery, 11411 NW 25th Street in Miami.

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