3 Rudy Van Gelder

Rudy Van Gelder

Rudy Van Gelder (born November 2, 1924, in Jersey City, New Jersey) is a recording engineer specializing in jazz.

Frequently regarded as one of the most important recording engineers in music history, [ [http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:gbfexq85ld0e~T1 "Rudy Van Gelder"] by Steve Huey for allmusic.com; URL accessed 31 July 2007] Van Gelder is one of the legendary behind-the-scenes figures in jazz, recording several hundred jazz sessions, including many widely recognized as classics. Bringing an unprecedented clarity to jazz recording, Van Gelder has recorded many of the great names in the genre, including Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, and many others. He worked with many record companies, but he is most closely associated with Blue Note Records, now a division of EMI.

Van Gelder's recording techniques are often admired for the warmth and presence he brings to the end result. Some critics however have also expressed a distaste for the thin and recessed sound in the instruments, mainly the piano. Richard Cook for example noted that the manner in which Van Gelder recorded piano was often as distinctive as the pianists' playing. [Cook, Richard. "Blue Note Records: The Biography". Boston: Justin Charles, 2003; ISBN 1932112103]

Early career

Van Gelder's interest in microphones and electronics can be traced to a youthful enthusiasm for amateur radio. A longtime jazz fan, his uncle had been a drummer for Ted Lewis in the 1920s, Van Gelder first recorded friends in his parents' Hackensack, New Jersey, living room, while working during the day as an optometrist. The house in Hackensack had been designed and built so that it could also be used as a recording studio. One of Van Gelder's friends, baritone saxophonist Gil Melle, introduced him to Blue Note Records producer Alfred Lion around 1952. The meeting led to the start of a second career, and as a result, Van Gelder is closely associated with the Blue Note label.

Within a few years Van Gelder was in demand by many other independent labels based around New York, including Prestige Records and Savoy Records.

Beginning of full-time engineering

In the summer of 1959, Van Gelder moved his operations to a larger studio in Englewood Cliffs, a few miles south east of the original location. The structure was inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and bore some resemblance to a chapel, with high ceilings and fine acoustics. Only in 1959 did he leave optometry in favor of recording full-time.

In the mid-1950s, Monk composed a tribute to Van Gelder called "Hackensack." It was in Englewood Cliffs where John Coltrane recorded his legendary "A Love Supreme" album for Impulse! Records in 1964. Other labels, such as Verve Records, made use of the new facility while Blue Note and Prestige continued their associations with Van Gelder for several years.

Van Gelder was secretive about his recording methods, leading to much speculation among fans and critics about particular details.

Associations decline and later career

In 1967, Alfred Lion retired from running Blue Note, and the company's owners, Liberty Records (from 1965), began to use other engineers more regularly. Prestige too had started to use other studios a few years earlier. Van Gelder remained active in music, most notably as the engineer for most of Creed Taylor's CTI Records releases, a series of proto-smooth jazz albums that were financially successful but not always well-received by critics.

Though his output slowed, Van Gelder still remains active as a recording engineer. Since 1999, he has been busy remastering the analog Blue Note recordings he made several decades ago into 24-bit digital recordings in its ongoing RVG Edition series, [ [http://www.bluenote.com/rvg_promo.asp RVG Edition] ] and also for a similar series of re-masters featuring some of the Prestige albums he recorded for its current owners, Concord Records.

Van Gelder still resides in Englewood Cliffs. [ [http://www.nj.com/greatday/stories/more.html The State of Jazz: Meet 40 More Jersey Greats,] "The Star-Ledger", September 28, 2004]


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