Charles J. Gans
NEW YORK: Rudy Van Gelder, the audio engineer who helped shape the sound of modern jazz on thousands of recordings, including such timeless albums as John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, has died. He was 91.
Blue Note Records spokesman Cem Kurosman said Van Gelder died Thursday morning at his home in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. The home was also the site of Van Gelder’s studio for more than half a century.
The National Endowment for the Arts, in a tribute to Van Gelder, noted that he was “considered by many the greatest recording engineer in jazz” who “recorded practically every major jazz musician of the 1950s and 1960s.”
“My ambition from the start as a recording engineer was to capture and reproduce the music better than other engineers at the time,” Van Gelder said in a 2012 interview with jazz writer Mark Myers. “I was driven to make the music sound closer to the way it sounded in the studio. This was a constant struggle — to get electronics to accurately capture the human spirit.”
An amateur radio buff and jazz fan, Van Gelder set up his first studio in the living room of his parents’ house in Hackensack, N.J., recording local musicians. One of his friends, saxophonist Gil Melle, introduced him to Blue Note Records founder and producer Alfred Lion in 1953. He soon became the main recording engineer for the independent jazz label, using innovative state-of-the-art recording techniques that helped turn the label into a major force on the modern jazz scene. Pianist Thelonious Monk composed a tribute to Van Gelder’s home studio titled Hackensack, which he recorded there in 1954.
Van Gelder not only recorded sessions for Blue Note, but also worked extensively with Prestige Records on such sessions as Miles Davis’ Bag’s Groove and Walkin’ and Sonny Rollins’ Tenor Madness and Saxophone Colossus.