Sunday, August 28, 2016

"How Rudy Van Gelder Shaped the Sound of Jazz As We Know It"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The Following by Nate Chinen is excerpted from the August 26, 2016 New York Times.

“When a musical hero of towering influence dies, the urge is to go straight to the tape: recordings, footage, a captured moment that stands in for the unwieldy fullness of a life.

This commemorative twitch — wearily familiar in our year of losses, from David Bowie to Prince to, just last week, the vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson — is especially well suited to the memory of Rudy Van Gelder, whose legend was shaped within the confines of his recording studio. Mr. Van Gelder, who died on Thursday at 91, was the most revered recording engineer in jazz — the man behind the curtain on thousands of albums and the chief architect of the storied “Blue Note sound.” He shaped the way we hear the music and the way we want it to be heard.

So it’s natural, now, to look for some trace of Mr. Van Gelder in the brilliant recordings he made, either at his first home studio in Hackensack, N.J., or at his second, in nearby Englewood Cliffs. It’s natural, and it’s also maddening, because so much of what he did was intangible. You hear it, you feel it, but his signature was etched in invisible ink. What is it, exactly, that you’re listening for? Naturalism? Warmth? The sound of a room?

“Some musicians sounded more real on your recordings than they would in a club,” the pianist and writer Ben Sidran ventured in 1985 in a rare interview with Mr. Van Gelder, who seemed to agree. He replied, “A great photographer will really create his image, and not just capture a particular situation.””

And this quotation from the introduction to Ben Sidran’s December, 1985 interview with Rudy will be followed by the full interview that will appear as a blog posting later in the week.

“Recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder never gives interviews. He agreed to talk with me only after I assured him that if he didn't like the way it went, he could keep the tape. Perhaps because he's spent his entire life on the other side of the microphone, he knows all too well the historical importance of pushing the record button.

Rudy is a legend in the recording world, not only because of the thousands of classic jazz sessions he's captured on tape, particularly the early Blue Note records, but also because he's a man who, many fans believe, helped invent the sound of contemporary jazz. His recordings from the early '50s still sound modem today. Rudy is not unaware of his position in the jazz pantheon, and actively guards his "secrets."

He will not talk about the kinds of microphones he uses or where he places them, or anything even vaguely related to the technical process of recording music. For many of today's young jazz musicians, walking into his studio is a bit like arriving at the inner chamber of the great pyramid (where the mysteries of the past have unfolded); for many older musicians, it's like coming home.”

To be continued:

Rudy van Gelder [1924-2016] R.I.P.

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