Rudy Van Gelder
Rudy Van Gelder (born November 2, 1924, Jersey City, New Jersey) is an American recording engineer who specializes in jazz.
Often regarded as one of the most important recording engineers in music history, Van Gelder has recorded several thousand jazz sessions, including many widely recognized as classics, in a career spanning more than half a century. Van Gelder has recorded many of the great names in the genre, including
Van Gelder's interest in microphones and electronics can be traced to a youthful enthusiasm for amateur radio. A longtime jazz fan (his uncle, for whom Rudy was named, had been drummer for Ted Lewis's band in the mid-1930s), Van Gelder himself had lessons on trumpet. In 1946, Van Gelder recorded friends in his parents' Hackensack, New Jersey house, in which his parents had a special control room designed and built. "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, baritone saxophonist Gil Mellé, introduced him to
Within a few years Van Gelder was in demand by many other independent labels based around New York, including
The 1950s also saw Van Gelder do engineering and mastering work for the classical label
Full-time Career as Recording Engineer
Until the late 1950s Van Gelder worked during the day as an optometrist. 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, and left his day job in favor of recording full-time. The new studios' structure was inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and bore some resemblance to a chapel, with high ceilings and fine acoustics.
In the mid-1950s,
Associations Decline and Later Career
In 1967, Alfred Lion retired from running Blue Note, and the company's owners,
Though his output slowed, Van Gelder still remains active as a recording engineer. In the late 90's he worked as a recording engineer for some of the songs featured on the soundtrack to the TV Show Cowboy Bebop. From 1999, he remastered the analog Blue Note recordings he made several decades ago into 24-bit digital recordings in its RVG Edition series, and also for a similar series of re-masters featuring some of the Prestige albums he recorded for its current owners,
Van Gelder still resides in Englewood Cliffs.
The Van Gelder 'sound'
Van Gelder was secretive about his recording methods, leading to much speculation among fans and critics about particular details. His recording techniques are often admired[according to whom?] for their warmth and presence. Some critics, however, have also expressed distaste for the thin and recessed sound of the instruments, mainly the piano. 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 dominance in recorded jazz, some artists avoided Van Gelder's studio. Bassist and composer Charles Mingus refused to record with Van Gelder, stating "[Van Gelder] changes people's sounds".
Awards and Honors
Van Gelder was named a fellow of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) in 2009. In 2013, he received the Society's most prestigious award, the AES Gold Medal.