Rudy Van Gelder, who recorded thousands of albums by musicians including some of the most important in jazz, died today at 91. As a young man, Van Gelder began recording in a room in his parents’ house in Hackensack, New Jersey. Among his recordings were early albums by Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. He was a practicing optometrist, but he said in recent years that when he first found himself in a recording studio, he had a feeling that “this is what I should be doing.” He went on to acquire the most sophisticated equipment and learned to use it to create what was sometimes labeled the Van Gelder sound. There was widespread speculation about how he achieved that sound, but he never disclosed his recording secrets. He ultimately left optometry and established his own studio in nearby Englewood Cliffs. Over the years he engineered classic sessions by Gil Mellé, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver and dozens of others. Van Gelder’s work made up substantial portions of the output of the record companies Savoy, Prestige and—especially—Blue Note.
As an example of the Van Gelder sound, from pianist, composer and arranger Duke Pearson’s 1966 album Sweet Honeybee here is a nifty blues in F. The soloists are Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Joe Henderson, tenor sax; James Spaulding, alto sax; Duke Pearson, piano; and Ron Carter, bass. The drummer is Mickey Roker. Pearson named the piece, “Ready Rudy?”
For an appreciation of Van Gelder from a New Jersey news organization, go here. Embedded in the obituary is video of an interview with Van Gelder about his life and work.
Rudy Van Gelder, RIP.