Rudy Van Gelder
|Born||November 2, 1924|
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||August 25, 2016 91) (aged|
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
Rudolph Van Gelder (November 2, 1924 – August 25, 2016) was an American recording engineer who specialized in jazz. Over more than half a century, he recorded several thousand sessions, with musicians including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver and Grant Green. He worked with many different record companies, and recorded almost every session on Blue Note Records from 1953 to 1967.
He worked on albums including John Coltrane's A Love Supreme , Miles Davis's Walkin' , Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage , Sonny Rollins's Saxophone Colossus , and Horace Silver's Song for My Father .He is regarded as one of the most influential engineers in jazz.
Van Gelder was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. His parents, Louis Van Gelder and the former Sarah Cohen, ran a women's clothing store in Passaic.His interest in microphones and electronics can be traced to a youthful enthusiasm for amateur radio. He was also a longtime jazz fan. His uncle, for whom Rudy was named, had been the drummer for Ted Lewis's band in the mid-1930s. Van Gelder took lessons on the trumpet.
Van Gelder trained as an optometrist at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania College of Optometry because he did not think he could earn a living as a recording engineer.He received an O.D. degree from the institution in 1946. Thereafter, Van Gelder maintained an optometry practice in Teaneck, New Jersey until 1959.
In the evenings after work, Van Gelder recorded local musicians who wanted 78-rpm recordings of their work.From 1946, Van Gelder recorded in his parents' house in Hackensack, New Jersey, in which a control room was built adjacent to the living room, which served as the musicians' performing area. The dry acoustics of this working space were partly responsible for Van Gelder's inimitable recording aesthetic.
"When I first started, I was interested in improving the quality of the playback equipment I had," Van Gelder commented in 2005; "I never was really happy with what I heard. I always assumed the records made by the big companies sounded better than what I could reproduce. So that's how I got interested in the process. I acquired everything I could to play back audio: speakers, turntables, amplifiers".One of Van Gelder's friends, the baritone saxophonist Gil Mellé, introduced him to Alfred Lion, a producer for Blue Note Records, in 1953.
In the 1950s, Van Gelder performed engineering and mastering for the classical label Vox Records.He became a full-time recording engineer in 1959. In 1959, he moved the Van Gelder Studio to a larger purpose-built facility in Englewood Cliffs, a few miles southeast of the original location. An obituarist in the London Daily Telegraph wrote of "Van Gelder's extreme fastidiousness" as an engineer, and his insistence on "no food or drink in the studio, and on no account was anyone to touch a microphone. He himself always wore gloves when handling equipment".
Though his output slowed, Van Gelder remained active as a recording engineer into the new century. In the late 1990s, he worked as a recording engineer for some of the songs featured in the soundtracks for the Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop .From 1999, he remastered the analog Blue Note recordings he made several decades earlier into 24-bit digital recordings in its RVG Edition series. He was positive about the switch from analog to digital technology. He told Audio magazine in 1995:
The biggest distorter is the LP itself. I've made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes going simultaneously, and I'm glad to see the LP go. As far as I'm concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don't like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engineer. That's why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I'm not denying that they do, but don't blame the medium.
Van Gelder continued to reside in Englewood Cliffs [ citation needed ]until his death on August 25, 2016. His final recording session was with the Jimmy Cobb Trio — Cobb on drums, Paolo Benedettini on bass and Tadataka Unno on piano — on June 20, 2016.
Van Gelder was secretive about his recording methods, leaving fans and critics to speculate about his techniques. He would go as far as to move microphones when bands were being photographed in the studio.His recording techniques are often admired by his fans for their transparency, warmth and presence. Richard Cook called Van Gelder's characteristic method of recording and mixing the piano "as distinctive as the pianists' playing" itself. Blue Note president and producer Alfred Lion criticized Van Gelder for what Lion felt was his occasional overuse of reverb, and would jokingly refer to this trait as a "Rudy special" on tape boxes.
Despite his prominence in recording jazz, some artists avoided Van Gelder's studio. The bassist and composer Charles Mingus refused to record with him. Taking Leonard Feather's "blindfold test" in 1960, he said that Van Gelder "tries to change people's tones. I've seen him do it; I've seen him do it; I've seen him take Thad Jones and the way he sets him up at the mike, he can change the whole sound. That's why I never go to him; he ruined my bass sound".
Critics of the Van Gelder sound of the 1950s and 1960s have focused on Van Gelder's recording of pianos in particular:
The best Van Gelder recordings feature wonderful-sounding brass, bass walks, and cymbal shimmers, but one instrument he rarely got right was the piano, which, on most of his albums, sounds hooded. Some engineers suspect this was due to reflections over the piano, brought on by the shape and size of his parents' living room and, later, his studio. It may be significant, in this regard, that his best-sounding album (and one of his best musically too), Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, does not feature a piano.
Van Gelder has also been criticized for his use of compression and high-frequency boosting, both of which, it is argued, compromise the sound. Journalist and radio producer George Hicks wrote:
For many of us in the recording trade, Van Gelder might be the most overrated engineer in audio history....Van Gelder would alter the sounds of the individual instruments -- and the entire recording -- with compression, equalization and reverberation both as they were being recorded, and after.... But for me, the so-called "Blue Note sound" has always been a musical, rather than audio, innovation, and Van Gelder less a peerless technician than a sonic visionary."
Writer Stanley Crouch argued in an interview with Ethan Iverson that Van Gelder made particular adjustments to the sound of John Coltrane's tenor saxophone sound when engineering Coltrane's Impulse Records sessions: "I know the difference between the sound of someone in person and the recorded sound of an engineer. Coltrane's tone was much darker and thicker than the sound on those Impulse! records engineered by Rudy Van Gelder. But maybe Van Gelder chose that sound because he could hear that Coltrane was an alto player first before switching to tenor."
Within a few years of opening his studio, Van Gelder was in demand by many other independent labels based around New York City, such as Prestige Records. Bob Weinstock, owner of Prestige, recalled the following in 1999: "Rudy was very much an asset. His rates were fair and he didn't waste time. When you arrived at his studio he was prepared. His equipment was always ahead of its time and he was a genius when it came to recording".According to a JazzTimes article in August 2016, "jazz lore has formed the brands into a yin and yang of sorts: The Blue Note albums involved more original music, with rehearsal and the stringent, consistent oversight of Lion; Weinstock was more nonchalant, organizing what were essentially blowing sessions for some of the best musicians in jazz history". Van Gelder said in 2012, "Alfred was rigid about how he wanted Blue Note records to sound. But Bob Weinstock of Prestige was more easygoing, so I'd experiment on his dates and use what I learned on the Blue Note sessions". He also worked for Savoy Records in this period, among others. "To accommodate everyone, I assigned different days of the week to different labels".
Writer Fred Kaplan has argued that Van Gelder's reputation with the record-buying public was aided by Blue Note Records' conspicuous mentions of Van Gelder on their album covers:
"Van Gelder was hardly the only great jazz engineer on the scene in those days; he may not even have been the best. Other stellar figures included Fred Plaut at Columbia, Roy DuNann at Contemporary, Val Valentin at Verve, Roy Goodman at RCA. But the other labels didn't play up their engineers (Columbia covers never so much as mentioned Plaut), while Alfred Lion, Blue Note's proprietor, promoted Van Gelder's sound as a boutique blend—something of a mystique—and the other labels who hired him followed suit, as if to boast that they too had the special sauce."
Prestige Records is a jazz record company and label founded in 1949 by Bob Weinstock in New York City. The company recorded hundreds of albums by many of the leading jazz musicians of the day, sometimes issuing them under subsidiaries. In 1971, the company was sold to Fantasy, which was later absorbed by Concord.
Blue Train is a studio album by John Coltrane, released in January 1958 on Blue Note Records, catalogue BLP 1577. Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, New Jersey, it is the only Blue Note recording by Coltrane as session leader. It has been certified a gold record by the RIAA.
Miles: The New Miles Davis Quintet is an album by jazz musician Miles Davis released in April 1956 on Prestige Records, catalogue 7014. It is the debut record by the Miles Davis Quintet, and generally known by the original title Miles as indicated on the cover.
Bob Weinstock was an American record producer best known for his label Prestige Records, established in 1949, which was responsible for many significant jazz recordings during his more than two decades operating the firm.
John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio is the third studio album by jazz musician John Coltrane, issued in early 1958 on Prestige Records, catalogue 7123. It was recorded at the studio of Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Africa/Brass is the eighth studio album by jazz musician John Coltrane, released on September 1, 1961 on Impulse! Records, catalogue A-6. The sixth release for the fledgling label and Coltrane's first for Impulse!, it features Coltrane's working quartet augmented by a larger ensemble to bring the total number of participating musicians to 21. Its big band sound, with the unusual instrumentation of French horns and euphonium, presented music very different from anything that had been associated with Coltrane to date.
Soultrane is the fourth studio album by jazz musician John Coltrane, released in 1958 on Prestige Records, catalogue 7142. It was recorded at the studio of Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey, three days after a Columbia Records session for Miles Davis and the Milestones album.
Coltrane is an album by jazz musician John Coltrane, released in 1957 on Prestige Records, catalogue 7105. The recordings took place at the studio of Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey, and document Coltrane's first session as a leader. It has been reissued at times under the title of The First Trane!.
The Last Trane is an album credited to jazz musician John Coltrane, released in 1966 on Prestige Records, catalogue 7378.
Settin' the Pace is an album credited to jazz musician John Coltrane, released in 1961 on Prestige Records, catalogue 7213. It is assembled from unissued results of a single recording session at the studio of Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1958. Coltrane on tenor saxophone is accompanied by the Red Garland Trio with Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Art Taylor on drums. With Garland and Chambers Coltrane had played together since at least October 1955 in Miles Davis' band. With Art Taylor they were part of the Tenor Conclave recordings in September 1956. As a quartet they had already recorded two albums for Prestige, John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio and Soultrane. The material the quartet recorded on this session were extended interpretations of three popular songs not played by jazz musicians before, and "Little Melonae", a classic bebop tune written by Jackie McLean. Of note is Coltrane's use of the sheets of sound technique, particularly on Little Melonae.
Black Pearls is an album credited to jazz musician John Coltrane, released in 1964 on Prestige Records, catalogue 7316. It is assembled from the results of a single recording session at the studio of Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey. As Coltrane's fame grew during the 1960s long after he had stopped recording for the label, Prestige used unissued recordings to create new marketable albums without Coltrane's input or approval.
Bahia is an album credited to jazz musician John Coltrane, released in 1965 on Prestige Records, catalogue 7353. It is assembled from unissued results of two separate recording sessions at the studio of Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1958. As Coltrane's fame grew during the 1960s long after he had stopped recording for the label, Prestige used unissued recordings to create new marketable albums without Coltrane's input or approval. Bahia is the last known album of this category while recording with Prestige.
Stardust is an album by jazz musician John Coltrane that was released in 1963 by Prestige Records. It was assembled from two separate sessions at the studio of Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1958. As Coltrane's fame grew during the 1960s, long after he had stopped recording for the label, Prestige used unissued recordings to create new marketable albums without his approval.
The Van Gelder Studio is a recording studio at 445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Following the use of his parents' home at 25 Prospect Avenue, Hackensack, New Jersey, for the original studio, Rudy Van Gelder (1924–2016) established the new location for his recording studio in 1959. It has been used to record many albums released by jazz labels such as Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse!, Verve and CTI.
Oscar "Ozzie" Cadena was an American record producer with Savoy Records and Prestige Records who recorded gospel and jazz music in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and helped popularize jazz music in Los Angeles.
The Legendary Prestige Quintet Sessions is a four compact disc box set of recordings by the Miles Davis Quintet released in 2006 by the Concord Music Group. It collates on three discs the entire set of recordings that made up the Prestige Records albums released from 1956 through 1961 — Miles, Cookin', Relaxin', Workin', and Steamin'. The track "'Round Midnight" was released on the album Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants. The fourth disc contains live material from a television broadcast and in jazz club settings. It peaked at #15 on the Billboard jazz album chart, and was reissued on December 2, 2016, in a smaller compact disc brick packaging.
The Art Farmer Septet is an album by trumpeter Art Farmer, featuring performances recorded in 1953 and 1954, arranged by Quincy Jones and Gigi Gryce, and released by Prestige Records in 1956. It is his earliest recorded full-length album, but was his third issued. The cover art was by cartoonist Don Martin.
James Moody's Moods is an album by saxophonist James Moody composed of sessions recorded in 1954 and 1955, released on the Prestige label.
Miles Davis All Star Sextet is a 10 inch LP album by Miles Davis, released in 1954 by Prestige Records. The two side-long tracks were recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey, April 29, 1954.
Miles Davis, Vol. 3 is a 1954 10 inch LP album by Miles Davis. It consists of the third and last of three sessions recorded for Blue Note Records. Several years later, Davis would once again record at Blue Note, but as a sideman on Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else.