Rudy Van Gelder - He Helped Put The Blue In Blue Note
THE NEW YORK TIMES
May 22, 2005
He Helped Put the Blue in Blue Note
By J. GREG PHELAN
It is one of the cathedrals of jazz, Rudy Van Gelder's studio here, a sacred acoustic space where some of the music's giants and near giants have done their finest work: Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Herbie Hancock, Antonio Carlos Jobim and George Benson and hundreds of others.
"I try not to think about who else has recorded there," Wayne Escoffery, the tenor saxophonist in Ben Riley's Monk Legacy Septet, said after a recent session. "But there was one time, I was recording 'Dedicated to You' with Gloria Cooper, and I started thinking about John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman recording that song at Rudy's. I felt like Coltrane was watching over me as I played my solo, and it was a little intimidating."
The studio even feels like a rustic chapel, its 39-foot-high cedar ceiling held up by arches of laminated Douglas fir. The space is as timeless and pristine as the music that has been captured here by Mr. Van Gelder, whom many jazz fans consider the greatest recording engineer ever. He opened it in 1959, after spending most of the 1950's recording people like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley in his parents' living room in Hackensack and refining the sound of recorded jazz working with Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records and other producers.
But Mr. Van Gelder isn't inclined to look backward. He has not succumbed to the deification of fans, and his workplace is not yet ready to become a mere shrine. Mr. Van Gelder, who declined to give his age, still excels at his trade and makes sure that his studio remains world class.
Despite his considerable reputation in the jazz world, Mr. Van Gelder deflects any credit for the sounds he has recorded over the decades. He says that praise should go to the musicians, and to the producers who hire and direct them.
"I'm an engineer, not a producer," he said with characteristic precision during a recent interview in his studio here. "I'm the person who makes the recording process work. I built the studio, I created the environment in which they play, I selected, installed and operate the equipment. An analogy might be, someone wanted to put a man on the moon, but it was an engineer who got him there.
"My goal is to make the musicians sound the way they want to be heard."
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