Honoring Rudy Van Gelder

Recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, the man who nearly singlehandedly defined the sound of modern jazz, passed away Aug. 25 at the age of 91.

His stellar career was the focus of the Aug. 30 edition of Tuesday Afternoon Jazz where the entire program featured recordings overseen by Van Gelder at his famed studio in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Go here for Hour 1Hour 2 and Hour 3 as well as the playlist.

In the studio: Engineer Rudy Van Gelder behind the board at his studio in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. (James Estrin/The New York Times photo)

Although he worked as an optometrist, Van Gelder actively pursued his interest of electronics and recording local jazz musicians when not working his “day job.” In the early 1950s, he was introduced to the founder of Blue Note Records — a fledgling independent label — where he became the primary recording engineer.

By 1959, Van Gelder’s engineering was in such high demand — due to his ability to create a “natural sound” in the recording studio which gave it the feel of a jazz club — that he left his optometry job, bought a house in Englewood Cliffs and built a studio with vaulted ceilings and amazing acoustics. This space would become synonymous with the legendary albums created there.

Over a 50-plus year period of time, thousands of sessions and hundreds of albums — some knocked out in a single day — were recorded at Van Gelder Studios where the biggest names at Blue Note, Prestige Records, CTI, Impulse! and Savoy were captured on tape by the sound wizard.

If a person was asked to name their top 10, 20 or 100 jazz albums, it really doesn’t matter the number, chances are the bulk of those sessions were done with Van Gelder twisting the knobs.

John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch, Grover Washington, Jr.’s Mister Magic, Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay and Grant Green’s Idle Moments were just a handful of legendary releases that were recorded by Van Gelder.

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