Thursday, September 1, 2016

Rudy van Gelder - The Ben Sidran Interview - Part 2

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

“Ben:. And these days, we're talking about ways of removing each individual from the live process.

Rudy: That's exactly right. It's almost as if you wanted to think of a way to inhibit creativity in jazz music, in a studio, if you wanted to think of a process to inhibit creativity, I would come up with a multi-track machine. A 24-track recorder that you could overdub on.”

Ben: Once you're into that, then you're into the whole concept of earphones, and you're into the concept of doing it again, and you're into the concept of doing it later. "Fixing it in the mix."

Rudy: It's inseparable. It's a machine of mass destruction. [Laughs.] Artistically.

This second and concluding portion of Ben Sidran’s interview with Rudy van Gelder picks up from the point when Ben asks Rudy the question - “Is there some way you can tell me why your Blue Note records didn't sound like anybody else's records? Why did your records sound different?”

Rudy commented: Well, it's not easy to really describe it in words. I have complicated feelings about it. First of all, I really don't wanna be too specific, because I'm still at this. You know, I'm still doing it. And I had certain ideas. But really, it's a question of Alfred presenting me with a problem, and my solution to the problem.

Ben asked: How was the problem presented?

Rudy: The problem, well, that was... you really should have been there, And really, the problem was presented to me by him walking in the door with these musicians, some of whom you mentioned, some of whom I've mentioned. And both of us having an image of what the finished product should sound like. He was unique at that time in that he had an idea; he pre-visualized or pre-oralized his records. He knew what he wanted before he came to the studio. He had a good idea what a record should sound like, what he wanted it to sound like. He would then bring these musicians in, and I considered it was my job to make these people sound the way he thought they should sound. Now I wanna say, that's within the framework of the musicians themselves, too. Really, it's the way the musicians themselves felt that they wanted to sound. That's where it really begins. It's not with Alfred, it's not with any other producer.

We're talking about jazz, now. Not the multi-track, overdub, layered kind of situation that you would find today. I'm not talking about that situation. I'm talking about jazz, where it's an expression of a musician's personality and his own sound, and he's recognizable and he's unique, and you can identify him as just as easily as I can recognize your voice or your face when I see you. Alfred had a way of presenting the situation, Here they are, this is the way they sound as individuals, this is the way, And he said, "Now you go ahead, and you do what you have to do to make that thing sound the way we want it to sound." And that's how he would present the problem.

Ben: Now this is interesting because it implies your job was to capture what was there, except it was more than that. Because you invented some sounds, some musicians sounded more "real" on your recordings than they would, say, in a club. It wasn't just captured.

Rudy: Right. I never considered that the goal any more than a good photographer really captures a moment. That's not really it. A great photographer will really create his image, and not just capture a particular situation. There are some people who would disagree with that, but that's the way I feel anyway.

That reminds me of something that happened just the other day. I'm in the process of recording Jimmy Raney, a wonderful guitar player. He came into the control room yesterday and he said, "Rudy," he says, "I really like this studio." He says, "Most of the places I go into, it sounds great in the room, and when it comes into the control room, you're disappointed. Something's wrong. You didn't get my sound." He says, "When I'm here, it always sounds better than it sounds in the room."

Ben: I think some musicians don't know what they sound like until they hear themselves on tape.

Rudy: That's right. I believe that, and there's nothing really bad about that. I mean, it's understandable, a trumpet player who's playing his horn, he's three feet from where the bell is and twenty feet from where the sound is really created. You know, he doesn't know how he sounds, unless he's sitting in the audience listening to another trumpet player...

Ben: He still doesn't know how he sounds.

Rudy: No, that's right. All he knows is how he sounds on the recording. And that's usually, to his own mind, it's usually different from what he thinks he should sound like. You know, someone who's not a professional, they'll come in and record the way their voice sounds, and then they'll say, "Oh, that doesn't sound like me." It's very common, because people listen from the inside, they don't hear themselves from the outside. Of course, experienced professionals, they know how to compensate for that. But to them, it's always a slight distortion of the way they think they should sound.

Ben: So you have a musician who's playing his instrument, who has an idea of how he wants to sound, then you have yourself, an engineer, who knows how it does sound, and how it could sound, and you have to find some common purpose.

Rudy: That's right. And then, all the tools of my trade, that's what I use in order to do that. And it's really also a question of personalities. Sometimes you have to, depending on the personality of the musician, you have to know how they react to your version of what they sound like. That's kind of a subtle distinction, but, you know.,.

Ben: It would seem to me that you have to be careful about making somebody sound larger than life, when you put it on a record, because you make it permanent in a way.

Rudy: I don't accept that larger-than-life description. I know what you mean, but I just don't like the implication of "larger in life." It implies a really exaggerated perspective, and a distortion of the musician's sound. And that's really not what I try to do.

Ben: I guess what I'm saying is, there are live recordings, where you go to a club, set up some mikes, do a live recording, capture the moment. And then there are studio recordings, and you seem to me, historically, to have been one of the key people in establishing what a studio sound could be.

Rudy: In so far as jazz is concerned, yes. But what about the records I made in the clubs? Aren't they kind of unique too? What about the Birdland recordings with Art Blakey? What about Coltrane at the Vanguard?

Those are location recordings. So why divide my efforts into studio and remote? Why not combine them?

Ben: Well, because, if you do that, then it's not a question of needing a specific room. I mean, we attribute this room we're in as being kind of a magic space. Even more so, the room that you were in, the house that your parents built...

Rudy: Why more so? ...

Ben: Well, perhaps it's because the early days have a kind of romantic aura about them, and the sound of that room was part of it.

Rudy: Well, it's the musicians and their personalities, who they were and how they played, that made it, not where it was. If they were here, you'd have the same feeling about this place.

Ben: Let's talk for a minute about the feeling that those musicians brought with them when they came into the room. Is your memory specific in terms of what the feeling was then, doing those sessions, night after night?

Rudy: It's not a specific feeling, it's more of a general feeling. I don't have any specific feelings. But I have a recollection that what we were doing was important at the time. We knew we were making good records. The music was important. It was important to the producers that I worked for at the time, and it was important to me. And I felt that it was more important than the politics of the day, or anything else that was going on. What we were doing really had a significance, that it would have a lasting significance. I really had that impression at the time. I've heard stories about, you know, people making records or doing whatever musicians do when they perform, and, you know, people'd say, "Well that was great," and then, you know, in some perspective from a later date, it's looked back upon. And then hearing them say, "Well, I just, I don't even remember what I did." You know. But I really must say that in general, not specifically, I really felt that we were doing something that really counted.

Ben: Let me try a specific recording session and see if there's a recollection you might have of it. How about John Coltrane's Blue Train session? I don't remember the date exactly of that session...

Rudy: You know, somewhere in my files in the back, I probably have a paid bill which gives you the date and everything if you want to know, It's the only way I can track that down ...

Ben: No, it's not necessary. I'm just curious about what you remember about the session. The players were Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, John Coltrane. Do you have any recollections of that particular recording date?

Rudy: No, I can't say that I do. No. To me it was not that different from the other ones that I was doing for Alfred at the time. Of course, the musicians, as individuals, I have specific recollections of them. But not on that particular session, no.

Ben: Do you have specific recollections of working, for example, with John Coltrane, or on recording his sound, capturing his sound?

Rudy: Our relationship was over a long period of time. I recorded him when he first came on the scene. And this was in Hackensack. I think that we had recorded some albums for Prestige. And I remember when he first came to town, and I remember how he played, and I remember exactly where he stood in the Hackensack studio. And I remember he didn't have a car at the time. He always wanted a car. He'd just started making enough money to have a car, but he didn't have a driver's license, so he bought the car, and someone else would drive him around. I remember that. That's when he first came.

And then, as time went on, he went with another company, and he had experience with them. And then when the time came for him to depart that company, he knew how he had sounded on that label, and he felt that he wanted me to record him from then on. So then, thereafter, he was back. But during that time I had gone from Hackensack to here, so all those ABC Impulse records were done here. And this is where John wanted to record. And he used to call me and say he'd want to come in, say, Wednesday night at 7:30. And he'd show up with his trio or quartet, or whatever it was, and they would get the music together here. And sometimes the producer wouldn't even be here. It would just be between John and myself. And I would run the master tape and a tape for him to take home. And he wouldn't even do a whole album at one time. He'd do like one tune. He'd teach 'em the figure, whatever it was, and they'd play that for an hour and a half, say between seven and nine o'clock. Then he'd go home, and then that would happen again in another two weeks. And then it would happen often enough that he'd have enough for an album, and that would be the album. And it was really nice. We got along great. And there were no technical discussions. I don't get along with people who talk about db's and highs and lows and equalization, and all that stuff. I never had success with a record producer who would talk to me on those terms. It always gets in the way of the music.

Ben: The process you just described strikes me as being very musical. You know, coming in with the group, working it out at the same time you're capturing it and setting up your microphones.

Rudy: It's to an almost irreducible minimum of interference of technology that way. The only way it could possibly be better is if the musicians could do it themselves. And they can't----

Ben: Why can't they? …

Rudy: Because it's a conflict in personalities. What you have to be and have to know to do what I do interferes with your musical process.

Ben: But so many musicians today are setting up studios in their homes. And, especially with technology, with the synthesizers and drum machines, they're not even using microphones. They're plugging directly into tape recorders or digital devices ...

Rudy: You don't need a studio for that. You can do it in somebody's office.

Ben: Exactly.

Rudy: I'm not putting that down. I mean, that's another world from what we've been talking about, you know. There's nothing wrong with what you're saying. That's okay. But we're talking about music as an expression of a person's personality.

Ben: Let's talk just a little bit longer about the magic of the Hackensack studio. I'm curious about the atmosphere of the place. For example, I'm wondering if, because the studio was in your parents' home, and because jazz musicians have such a reputation for being night people, if there weren't some conflicts between your parents' life and the studio?

Rudy: There were some minor conflicts, yes. I mean, in that way, of course, they were very kind to time. They allowed me to do it. They also considered what I was doing important. That was an essential part of that, Because if they didn't, I couldn't have done it. So, understanding that, they allowed me to do what I felt had to be done, without interfering too much in their lives. But when things really got busy, towards the end of the '50s, in 1959, I really had a very strong motivation to get outta there. And I felt that I could do a lot of things that I couldn't do there. I mean, it was a much larger room, designed acoustically the way I felt it should be.

And, oh sure, it was a whole new world that opened up, of different types of sessions, different times of doing it. Remember that, before this place was built, certain types of sessions I had to do as a location recording, as a remote. We had to go into New York. We did a lot of good records there too. There was a place in the city, a big hall, where we did the Jimmy Smith, Stanley Turrentine things. Very nice. Kenny Burrell, lot of good records made in New York as a remote. Of course when I came here, I didn't have to do that anymore. That became just part of the studio operation. It was a great relief to get out of Hackensack.

Ben: Yeah. How did that Hackensack experience affect you, spending that time in your own home, with all these great players?

Rudy: Why, I think it's contributed to my enjoyment of making records today. It's the foundation of what I'm doing now. Everything that happened then was the foundation upon which I built what we're doing now.

Ben: What do you listen to from those days?

Rudy: The Red Garland, Philly Joe things for Prestige. I don't even remember the names of the records, but I just remember that beautiful sound that Red Garland had on the piano. Miles. All those beautiful ballads that Miles did. Can't escape that. He can't escape it either. I remember he always used to come in with a beautiful ballad, every session he did. That was one of the things that was his specialty. He'd have this ballad. You'd never forget that. That was just fantastic. "Surrey With The Fringe On Top." Things like that.

Ben: When you hear that, do you think to yourself, "We got that right."

Rudy: Right. Of course. There's hardly any way I could do that better. That's one of the reasons I'm so enthusiastic about digital now. I really feel that digital is an ideal way to preserve that. It's an ideal storage medium for what I'm doing. But that held up pretty well. Those tapes, even though they're, how many years old now? But, if you want to keep it, keeping it digitally is the right way to do it.

Ben: Those records you mentioned were made several decades ago. Has your philosophy of recording changed drastically?

Rudy: No. It hasn't changed at all. I feel the same way about what I'm trying to do now as I did then. The only thing that's changed is if I were to gage the success of what I do, what percentage have I reached, I would have to say maybe, 85 or 90 percent. At that time, back in the Hackensack days, I was back to maybe 30 or 40 percent of what I felt I could do. I mean, referring to things like the equipment. Maintenance. When you started the session and you plugged in a microphone, whether it worked or not. There's a much higher chance of it working now. Whether the tape machine was doing what everyone thought that it should be. Things are more reliable now than they were then. That gives me a chance to concentrate on the things I should concentrate on.

Ben: Well, specifically, what comes to mind, is that Blue Trane record we talked about was done direct to two track...

Rudy: Right...

Ben: You got your mix when you recorded it.

Rudy: That's right. No one knew any better. No one knew better.

Ben: Some people say they still don't know better.

Rudy: I'll buy that. Well, wait. One thing you did forget. It was mono. I must say that. We weren't dealing with more than just the one track.

Ben: Okay. But the process of recording was integral with the process of playing. If somebody was the soloist and you wanted to hear a little more of a piano solo, then the engineer would give you a little more of the piano, right then.

Rudy: Oh, that's right, that's right. It had to be done. There was no other way to do it. That's right. It was an event.

Ben: It was an event. I think everybody was aware of that.

Rudy: That's right. Today, each one of those things is a step in the process.

Ben: So the music is being manufactured now, not captured.

Rudy: Right. If you choose to do it like that. Yes.

Ben: What was your feeling when the multi-track recording first came along?

Rudy: Well, in the beginning, I really resisted it. For a long, long time...

Ben: Really?

Rudy: Yeah. Of course multi-track didn't happen at once. It evolved, track by track. First one track, then two track, then three track, then four track. Then eight track, then sixteen track, and with maybe twelve in between. And all the variations in between. That's right. So it really was an evolvement, not a breakthrough. That's why I don't consider it a breakthrough. It wasn't really, it was an evolution. Track by track. And the more tracks you had, the more tracks you used. And the more you used, the less you had to "do it right," from the beginning. And that's the way this record industry is built.

Ben: What was exciting to you when multi-track came along?

Rudy: Well, I looked at it in a different way. It was my philosophy at the time, "Well, this thing is really great." I mean, if you assume that the more microphones you use, the more flexible your recording technique is going to be, then nothing is good enough but 24 tracks. Let's assume that. I thought, "This is terrific. Now I'm gonna have a second chance at this." If I make it, I don't have to be great on each date. I can relax, I can just make sure everything goes right. And then we're gonna mix it later, and I'll have a second chance at everything. If I miss an entrance of a solo, or something like that, I'm going to be able to fix it later.

But it didn't work out like that. Because musicians were just as aware of this as I was. And it ended up that they used it for different purposes. They wanted to overdub. And therefore, once you got into an overdub situation, they had to have earphones. And everyone had to hear what was on the tape. And a generation of musicians developed that relied on that, and expected to be able to use that as a way to make records.

Ben: Earphones. You didn't use earphones in Hackensack?

Rudy: That's right...

Ben: People just set up the room and played?

Rudy: Yeah. They played, they arranged themselves in such a way that they could hear each other the best they could. And if a drummer was playing very loud, everybody else knew. So they would do something about it. I mean, there were other problems, but I gave you that as an example.

Ben: That's an interesting point. The use of earphones was a radical departure.

Rudy: Absolutely. Do you know that when they come in and do a session today, it takes me practically no time to set up and get a nice sound, but it takes twice as much time just to get the earphones set?

Ben: Everybody wants a different mix. Everybody wants to hear less bass, more bass. More drums.

Rudy: Right, that's right. Each musician has his own feeling about what he wants to hear. Now that didn't exist in the time period you're discussing.

Ben: So the event nature of what you were all doing back then had to do with the fact that people were having to make live adjustments in order to get the music down.

Rudy: Absolutely...

Ben:. And these days, we're talking about ways of removing each individual from the live process.

Rudy: That's exactly right. It's almost as if you wanted to think of a way to inhibit creativity in jazz music, in a studio, if you wanted to think of a process to inhibit creativity, I would come up with a multi-track machine. A 24-track recorder that you could overdub on.

Ben: Once you're into that, then you're into the whole concept of earphones, and you're into the concept of doing it again, and you're into the concept of doing it later. "Fixing it in the mix."

Rudy: It's inseparable. It's a machine of mass destruction. [Laughs.] Artistically.

Ben: Well, it's kind of a snake swallowing its tail. A circular problem. Because today, from the creative side, there are a lot of great young players, a lot of brilliant technical players. But we don't have so many stylists as we used to have. People don't sound as distinctive as they used to. Do you think that's part of the same technical problem?

Rudy: I don't know if you can blame the machines for that, entirely. There are other factors. But, maybe you can, if you really dig into this, if you want to. If a young musician feels that that's the way he has to record, he's really in this thing alone.

I mean, what we've been saying is that, in order to make a presentable record, a jazz record, everybody has to play together. And they have to play together at one time. Once you eliminate that necessity, then you describe a situation where you don't have to play together, and the musician doesn't have to listen to other musicians. He can just do his own thing and you can fix it later. Or if the piano's too loud behind the saxophone solo, they'll fix it later. But if you can't do it later, then while the saxophone player's playing, or while the piano player is playing, or the two musicians are playing with each other, they have to listen to each other. They have to. Otherwise it's not good. It's gonna sound rotten. So maybe it is related.

Ben: And maybe when people listen to each other, they start to develop a distinctive way of doing things. And maybe that's part of where style comes from.

These days, I know you're doing a lot of direct-to-two-track digital recording. Live mixing, rather than fixing it later, much like you used to do back in the '50s. Seems like we've gone a long way to get back to where we started. Is there some irony in that for you?

Rudy: I don't think irony is the right word. To me, it's made working a pleasure. I really enjoy doing what I'm doing now. It's like starting all over again and being excited about things. Little things, like being able to play back a great sound to the group right after they have played it. And they can hear it right then, not worrying about how it's gonna to be later. Everybody knows it's good, before they go home.

Ben: That's the way it used to be.

Rudy: Right. Sure, it's excitement. It's put excitement back. I guess you could call that an irony, but it's given me a new way of looking at recording.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.