Born: November 2, 1924 Primary Instrument: Producer
Rudy Van Gelder - recording engineer, master audiophile
Rudy Van Gelder started recording artists such as Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley in the early 50's, in the comfort of his parent’s living room. It wasn't until 1959 that he opened his studio on Englewood Cliffs and along with Alfred Lion, changed the way Jazz was being recorded. In the fifty plus years that Rudy has been working it is estimated that he has recorded, mixed and mastered over 2000 albums not only for Blue Note but Verve Records, Impulse!, CTI and many others.
Blue Note Records founder Alfred Lion and Van Gelder first met when musician Gil Melle introduced them in 1953. Lion was impressed with the sonic clarity of Van Gelder's recordings, and he made sure that Van Gelder recorded most Blue Note sessions from 1953 to 1967. The signature “Blue Note Sound” is really a culmination of Lion's devotion to hard bop jazz, Van Gelder's meticulous pursuit of accurately capturing that improvisatory music and the remarkable playing of the musicians on those sessions from Van Gelder's first studio in Hackensack, N.J. These days, Van Gelder operates from a state-of-the-art digital facility in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., where he is working with re-issue producer Michael Cuscuna on the RVG Series.
Van Gelder started recording musicians in his parents' living room in Hackensack as a hobby. Overwhelming demand from musicians and producers forced him to quit his day job as an optometrist and record music full time. Before he started making his own records, Van Gelder simply wanted to re-create the audio experience of live music, his love for jazz and hearing it played back accurately led him to audiophile equipment stores.
“When I first started, I was interested in improving the quality of the playback equipment I had,” Van Gelder explains. “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.“When I started making records, there was no quality recording equipment available to me,” he continues. “I had to build my own mixer.
These days, Van Gelder is also an enthusiastic supporter of digital audio and an avid learner of new gear and software. “I believe today's equipment is fantastic,” he says. “I wouldn't want to face a session without the editing capabilities of digital. There are still maintenance and reliability issues. Tech support helps. From my viewpoint, the essential difference between analog and digital is that analog does not like to be copied,” Van Gelder continues. “After the original is recorded, edited and mixed, then what? You need a digital delivery medium. In that sense, the final product can be much higher quality than in the '70s.”
Despite his considerable reputation in the jazz world, Mr. Van Gelder deflects any credit for the sounds he has recorded over the decades. He says that praise should go to the musicians, and to the producers who hire and direct them.
In the final analysis of Rudy Van Gelder, he established the standard for sonic excellence on a par with that of the many great and legendary musicians he recorded over the decades. He has certainly done that. And it's a legacy that Blue Note is preserving. The label has established The Rudy Van Gelder Series, which consists of more than 200 classic Blue Note albums remastered by him. And Blue Note recently released Blue Note Perfect Takes, a collection of essential tracks that Mr. Van Gelder picked for their sonic and musical excellence; the collection also includes an interview with him on DVD.