If, like me, you consider the great Jazz recordings from the 1950s and 60s on Blue Note, Prestige and Impulse labels to be some of the greatest treasures in the creative arts, you should spare a moment and thank the recording engineer who made it possible for us to enjoy the exceptional music that the masters left behind.
Rudy Van Gelder, who died at his home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA on Thursday August 25, 2016 at the age of 91, was a self-taught recording engineer, considered by most to be the greatest among the thousands who have toiled in that field.
Rudolph Van Gelder was born to Louis and Sarah Van Gelder in Jersey City on Nov. 2, 1924. Although he played trumpet as a boy, he developed a passion for audio technology before he entered adolescence. He purchased a recording device and soon became a ham radio operator. After becoming an optometrist, the young Van Gelder set up an amateur recording studio in his parent’s house in Hackensack, New Jersey in the early 1940s and began to record little known musicians. He first made recordings for the Blue Note label in 1952. By 1959, he had moved the studio to Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey and abandoned optometry. The two towns where he worked became (and remain) household names among collectors of recorded Jazz.
His initials – RVG – are etched in the wax of some of the timeless LPs of the 1950s and 60s like Coltrane’s A Love Supreme; Miles Davis’ Walkin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, and Steamin’ plus Bags’ Groove; Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage; the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Django; Sonny Rollins’ Tenor Madness and Saxophone Colossus; and Horace Silver’s Song for My Father.
However, it is Blue Note Recordings that first pop up in one’s mind at the mention of his name. He gave us excellent recordings of great masters as leaders, including Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Tina Brooks, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cole, John Coltrane, Sonny Clark, Eric Dolphy, Lou Donaldson, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Thad Jones, Elvin Jones, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Sonny Redd, Sonny Reed, Jimmy Smith, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Larry Young ……………. A very long list indeed.
His Blue Note Jazz recordings alone would serve one’s lifetime needs. Recent reissues by Music Matters Jazz, for example, remind us why this optometrist-turned-engineer will live long in the annals of audio engineering and, of course, Jazz Music.
Thank you RVG! You now belong to the ages.