Rudy van Gelder passed away at the age of 91 on August 25, 2016. He died in his home, which also doubled as his studio, in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. He was born in Jersey City, NJ on November 2, 1924.
He was the son of immigrant parents from The Netherlands. His father was Louis Van Gelder and his mother was the former Sarah Cohen. After they had settled down in the US, they ran a women’s clothing store in Passaic, NJ.
Rudy was married twice but in both cases his wives predeceased him. Unfortunately there is little information on who they were and whether the marriages produced any offspring.
Rudy attended Optometry School and after graduation he became an optometrist for about ten years. He then became interested in the quality of reproduced jazz music as it appeared on disks, 78 rpm records at that time. He began to experiment and eventually became a self-taught sound engineer.
He had played the trumpet as a young man, but was not good enough to make it a career. He liked music and especially jazz, but felt that the recordings of it were just inadequate in reproducing the original sound spectrum of the music.
That awareness led him to begin experimenting at improving that sound spectrum. By using more sensitive microphones and placing them at different locations he was able to produce recorded jazz music that was outstanding according to the jazz musicians who produced the music.
Rudy was able to record jazz music with his own array of microphones in his own studio. He was able to recapture not only the jazz music but also the spatiality of it. According to jazz artists whose work he has recorded, Van Gelder was the best, and no one could duplicate the quality of the recordings he produced. As a result numerous jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and numerous others heaped praise on his work and insisted on him as their audio engineer for their recordings.
Rudy was involved not just in recording the jazz music but also in the final process of transferring the recorded music to the 78 rpm record prior to the actual manufacture of the record. He is quoted as saying, “I want to be in control of the entire recording chain, because my name is attached to the final product”.
He was the sound engineer who was responsible for the quality on various jazz labels including Blue Note, Prestige, Impulse and other labels during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Some jazz classics engineered by him are: Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, Sonny Rollins’s Saxophone Colossus”, Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father”, Esther Phillips’s “What a Difference a Day Makes”, and Grover Washington’s “Mister Magic”.
Summing up the above, Rudy was responsible for nearly all jazz recordings of the famed Blue note records label between 1953 and 1967. Many of the best records of that era including those by such luminaries as Miles Davis “Walkin”, Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” and those by Cannonball Adderley.
Rudy received three awards for his work as a recording engineer. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts [NEA] named him the “The NEA Arts Jazz Master”. In 2012, the Recording Academy awarded him “The Lifetime Achievement Award”. And in 2013, the Audio Engineering Society awarded him their “Lifetime Achievement Award”.
In addition to the above Van Gelder was selected as a recipient of the North Sea Jazz Festival BIRD Award with Special Appreciation for being the best recording engineer in the history of jazz. The awardee was announced as a Dutch American Pioneer by the The Hague, Netherlands-based organization.
After being the only sound expert until about the late 1960’s others began to work on improving the sound, and he was not the only sound expert from that time on. But in the 1950’s and 1960’s Van Gelder was the only expert sound engineer and he had no competiton.
“Rudy Van Gelder, Audio Engineer who Helped Define Sound of Jazz on Record, Dies at 91”, New York Times, August 26, 2016.
“Dutch American Van Gelder Selected for Bird Award”, Article published by The Windmill prior to its closing in 2012.
Source of Picture: Wikipedia
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