Skip to main content

Jazz's greatest recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder dies at 91

Van Gelder was an optometrist in the 1940s when he became intent on becoming a recording engineer, a profession that barely existed at the time. Photograph: (Facebook)

AFP New York, United Stat Aug 26, 2016, 01.02 AM (IST)
Renowned recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who recorded some of jazz's masterpieces starting in his parents' living room as artists took to his intimately precise sound, died yesterday. He was 91.

American jazz record label Blue Note Records confirmed his death, where he spent decades as the key recording engineer, and by his nephew Gregg Van Gelder, who owns a music shop in upstate New York.
Fascinated by radio 

Van Gelder supervised John Coltrane's spiritually rooted 1964 "A Love Supreme," often called the greatest jazz album of all time. He also captured works by other jazz greats: Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver.

An optometrist in the 1940s, Gelder gradually became intent on becoming a recording engineer, a profession that barely existed at the time. He discovered live jazz in New York and became fascinated by radio.

He transformed his parents' living room in New Jersey into a recording studio where artists initially came over from New York for the competitive rates, as Van Gelder kept working as an optometrist to buy gear.

Van Gelder moved out of his parents' house to a more professional studio, inspired by a design by Frank Lloyd Wright, that he opened nearby in 1959.

'Blue Note Sound' 
Blue Note was drawn by the immediacy of his sound which captured rawness and the subtleties of the instruments. He cut his first album in 1953.

"In those days - even into the 1950s - the quality of the equipment and records themselves couldn't keep up with what musicians were playing live," he told the blog JazzWax in 2012.

"I had to experiment to find the best way to set up musicians and microphones so the sound would be as warm and as realistic as possible," he said.

Van Gelder's techniques soon became known as the "Blue Note Sound."

A key ingredient was his use of the then-new German-manufactured Neumann U47 microphone, which he altered and strategically placed to capture sound at close range.


He called "A Love Supreme" the most powerful of his recordings in the 1960s. But he said he only reached that conclusion in 2002, when he remastered the Coltrane album for a digital reissue and finally listened more leisurely to the music.

(WION with inputs from AFP)
Show Comments
  • delete