Photo Courtesy John Munson/ Star Ledger
Truth be told, it was engineer Rudy Van Gelder who got me hooked on jazz. I had no idea of that when I started listening. I just heard the music and was drawn to it. I had failed miserably in 6th grade playing saxophone because of my teacher Mr. Petroff. He wasn’t a teacher, he was an dictator. The man scared me to my core. His broken English combined with Russian and gin blossomed nose screamed at the top of his lungs on every wrong note we hit. Looking back, I wish I’d have stuck it out, but perhaps under better circumstances. I remember giving the instrument back by throwing it across the music room and feeling satisfied. Although the saxophone didn’t work for me, it didn’t discourage me from falling in love with music though. It wasn’t until my late teens that I found myself lost in some sea of a new genre I discovered called jazz, buying vinyl and CDs at a record pace. Miles Davis and John Coltrane to start, then realizing how great this music was and buying all off of specific labels that I could get my hands on. It was not easy to find it where I was located. I had to travel more than an hour to the only record store I knew (before I started to go to NYC and shop). I began to hone in on specific record labels: Blue Note, Prestige, CTI, KUDU, and more because of the sound. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it was Van Gelder who gave these artists their sound.
I didn’t even know where Englewood Cliffs was, but in my mind I saw some secluded fortress where the best jazz music in history was made.
It was his recording technique I realized that drew me towards jazz. The warm sound that made you feel like you were right there that Van Gelder was able to bring you on record was what pulled me in. Plus, I was fascinated that he was from New Jersey like me, and had this fantastic, magical, studio in Englewood Cliffs, NJ where he recorded so many legends (previously out of his parents’ house in Hackensack, but that is another story). When I saw the ‘Recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ’ on a record, I just pictured some post modern state of the art analog studio, filled with smoke, jazz cats wearing shades while they play, making something out of nothing, ready to get to our ears. I didn’t even know where Englewood Cliffs was, but in my mind I saw some secluded fortress where the best jazz music in history was made. Years later, reflecting back, I still get the same feeling when I find a record recorded by Van Gelder. It’s like I found a treasure, and I know I won’t be disappointed when RVG is in command. So when I heard of his passing yesterday, I waited, because I wanted to really make sure. I was sad, but realized that even though 2016 took a lot of music figures from us, I could probably spend the rest of my life digging into Rudy Van Gelder’s discography and not get through it. So for now, I’ll just keep discovering more records he engineered, like a kid in a candy store, and just say: “Thanks Mr. Van Gelder”.
I can’t say I like this news, as Rudy will be missed. He was the sculptor of the greatest sounds of the 20th Century.
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