Rudy Van Gelder

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Rudy Van Gelder
RogerDawsonSeptet (cropped - Rudy Van Gelder).jpg
Background information
Born(1924-11-02)November 2, 1924
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedAugust 25, 2016(2016-08-25) (aged 91)
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
Occupation(s)Audio engineer

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, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver and Grant Green. He worked with many record companies but was most closely associated with Blue Note Records.

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.[1] He is regarded as one of the most influential engineers in jazz.[2]

Early life[edit]

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.[1] 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.[3].

Van Gelder trained as an optometrist at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, in Philadelphia, because he did not think he could earn a living as a recording engineer.[1][4] From 1943, after graduating, until the late 1950s, Van Gelder had an optometry practice in Teaneck, New Jersey.


In the evenings after work, Van Gelder recorded local musicians who wanted 78-rpm recordings of their work.[5] 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.[3][6] The dry acoustics of this working space were partly responsible for Van Gelder's inimitable recording aesthetic.[7]

"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".[8] One of Van Gelder's friends, the baritone saxophonist Gil Mellé, introduced him to Alfred Lion, a producer for Blue Note Records, in 1953.[8]

In the 1950s, Van Gelder performed engineering and mastering for the classical label Vox Records.[9][10] 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.[11] 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".[12]

Later career[edit]

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 on the soundtrack to the TV Show Cowboy Bebop.[13] From 1999, he remastered the analog Blue Note recordings he made several decades earlier into 24-bit digital recordings in its RVG Edition series.[14] 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.[15]

Van Gelder continued to reside in Englewood Cliffs[16]until his death on August 25, 2016.[1][17]

The Van Gelder sound[edit]

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.[18] 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.[19] 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".[20][21]


Within a few years 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 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".[22] 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".[23] 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".[5] He also worked for Savoy Records in this period, among others. "To accommodate everyone, I assigned different days of the week to different labels".[5]

Thelonious Monk composed and recorded a tribute to Van Gelder entitled "Hackensack".

Awards and honors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Keepnews, Peter (August 25, 2016). "Rudy Van Gelder, Audio Engineer Who Helped Define Sound of Jazz on Record, Dies at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  2. ^ "Rudy Van Gelder" by Steve Huey for; accessed 31 July 2007
  3. ^ a b Skea, Dan (2002). "Rudy Van Gelder in Hackensack: Defining the Jazz Sound in the 1950s". Musicological Studies 71/72, Spring 2001–Spring 2002. pp. 54–76, 56, 57.
  4. ^ "Rudy Van Gelder" Archived 2011-11-12 at the Wayback Machine, Biographical article at the All About Jazz website, 1 December 2007
  5. ^ a b c Myers, Marc (February 7, 2012). "New Jersey Jazz Revolution". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  6. ^ Davis, Miles, with Quincy Troupe (1989). Miles: The Autobiography, New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-63504-2. See pp. 176–177 on Van Gelder's recording studio in Hackensack.
  7. ^ Eastwood, M. "Rudy Van Gelder", Eastwood Records': Mini Blog', London, 31 August 2016
  8. ^ a b Forlenza, Jeff (2005). "Who Cares About Quality? Rudy Van Gelder!" Archived 2010-04-18 at the Wayback Machine Mix, 1 May.
  9. ^ Vox LP liner notes and dead wax (matrix) stamps and etchings, LPs STPL 58.520, STPL 514.070, STPL 512.730, STPL 510.330, STPL 511.110.
  10. ^ "Rudy Van Gelder" Archived 2011-11-12 at the Wayback Machine, Biographical article at the All About Jazz website, 1 December 2007
  11. ^ Gitler, Ira (2001). "Vangelder’s Studio". JazzTimes, April.
  12. ^ "Rudy Van Gelder, great jazz recording engineer – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. London. 2 September 2016. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-11-07. Retrieved 2012-12-01.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-03. Retrieved 2009-02-28.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ Van Gelder, Rudy; Rozzi, James (1995). "Rudy Van Gelder Interview (Edited Version)".
  16. ^ "The State of Jazz: Meet 40 More Jersey Greats". The Star-Ledger, September 28, 2004.
  17. ^ Lobenfeld, Claire (August 25, 2016). "Legendary Jazz Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder Dies at 91". Fact. Retrieved August 25, 2016.
  18. ^ David Simons, Studio Stories, Backbeat Books, 2004, p187
  19. ^ Cook, Richard (2003). Blue Note Records: The Biography. Boston: Justin Charles. ISBN 1-932112-10-3.
  20. ^ Mingus, Charles; Feather, Leonard (1960-05-12). "Blindfold Test: Charles Mingus, Part 2". Down Beat. Retrieved August 25, 2016.
  21. ^ Priestley, Brian (1984). Mingus: A Critical Biography. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80217-1.
  22. ^ In "The Prestige Story" liner notes, quoted by Ira Gitler "Vangelder’s Studio", Jazz Times, April 2001.
  23. ^ "Rudy Van Gelder Dies at 91: Recording Engineer Defined the Sound of Blue Note, Prestige, A Love Supreme and More". Jazz Times. August 25, 2016. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  24. ^ "Trustees Award: Rudy Van Gelder". 2012-02-01. Retrieved 2016-08-27.

External links[edit]