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RUDY VAN GELDER,
1924-2016

Rudy Van Gelder, one of the most important recording engineers in music history who spent more than 50 years capturing sessions by the likes of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and nearly every Blue Note Records artist between 1953 and 1972, died today at his home in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. He was 91.

His nephew announced his death on Facebook, but did not give a cause.

A jazz specialist credited with defining the way the genre sounds on record, Van Gelder was famous for capturing the natural tones of instruments and clearly defining their spatial relationships on classics such as Kenny Dorham’s Afro-Cuban, Miles DavisBlue Moods and Workin’, Bill EvansTrio ’65, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil and Horace Silver’s The Jody Grind. For many, the warmth in the sound of Blue Note Records that Van Gelder created made it the premier jazz label in the post-bebop era.

He was behind the controls for Coltrane’s masterpiece A Love Supreme, Sonny Rollins’ landmark Prestige sessions in the 1950s, the adventurous work of Andrew Hill in the 1960s, early American sessions by Brazilians Jobim and Milton Nascimento, and Deodato’s hit version of “Also Sprach Zarathurstra.” He worked through the ‘90s recording musicians such as Wallace Roney, Kenny Barron and Donald Byrd.

“Rudy was as vital a part of the 'Blue Note Sound' as the incredible musicians he recorded, and his importance to the legacy of jazz cannot be overstated,” Blue Note Records said in a statement. “Rudy was the go-to recording engineer for Blue Note Records between 1953-1972, capturing in sterling sound the monuments of the Blue Note catalog. Thank you Rudy, for all that you gave the world of music.”

While Van Gelder was not a producer, his involvement in the recording process was thorough. He determined microphone placements, recorded the musicians and mastered their recordings. Blue Note tapped Van Gelder in the late 1990s to remaster many of the classic recordings he had done for the label; eventually, nearly 70 titles were issued as RVG Editions.

An optometrist by trade, Van Gelder spent the 1950s seeing eye patients in the day and at night recording jazz for the Prestige, Savoy and Blue Note labels in New York and New Jersey where he had a studio in Hackensack. (Monk’s tune “Hackensack” is named for Van Gelder’s home studio.)

In 1959, he moved to a larger facility in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and added Impulse! and Verve as clients. He would later record multiple sessions for Creed Taylor’s CTI imprint, Taylor having been head of Impulse and Verve in the 1960s.

In 2009, he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and the Recording Academy gave him a lifetime achievement award in 2012.

 

 

 

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