Engineer Rudy Van Gelder Passes Away at Age 91

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image of Rudy Van Gelder

Rudy Van Gelder, pictured during a NAMM Oral Histories interview. Photo: Courtesy of NAMM.

As reported by Clive Young on Pro Sound News’ Website on August 25, 2016: Legendary Jazz engineer Rudy Van Gelder died on Thursday, August 25, at his home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey; he was 91. Over the years, Van Gelder recorded some of the most important jazz artists of the 20th Century, capturing classic albums by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and many others.

Born November 24, 1924 in Jersey City, New Jersey, Van Gelder was drawn to electronics at a young age as a ham radio hobbyist; by the mid-1940s, he had begun recording musicians in the living room in his parents’ house in Hackensack, New Jersey. Thelonious Monk would eventually pay tribute to the space with his mid-1950s track, “Hackensack.”

Throughout the 1950s, he recorded sides for independent labels in New York, including Prestige, Vox, Savoy and the label he grew to be most associated with, Blue Note. Even though he was capturing classic performances like The Miles Davis All-Stars’ Walkin’, recording was still something he did on the side at the time, spending his days working as an optometrist.

In 1959, he finally leapt full-time into recording and moved to a new studio which he designed in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. In that facility, where he also lived, he continued to record inspired albums like John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Donald Byrd’s Fuego. During the later 1960, Blue Note began working with a wider variety of engineers, but Van Gelder, too, shifted with the times and through the 1970s, worked mostly with smooth jazz label CTI Records, home of Grover Washington, Jr. and others.

An in-demand recording and mastering engineer for decades, Van Gelder was still actively working in the early 2000s, when he remastered many of his best-known efforts for Blue Note as a specialized series, the Rudy Van Gelder Editions; similar series for CTI and Prestige soon followed.

In more recent years, he was awarded the Audio Engineer Society’s highest honor, the AES Gold Medal, in 2013, following his being named as a fellow of the Society in 2009. No cause of death had been announced at press time. He is survived by his brother, Leon.

Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy, issued the following statement on August 25 regarding Rudy Van Gelder:

“A 2012 recipient of The Recording Academy Trustees Award, Rudy Van Gelder was not only known as a pioneering recording engineer, he was regarded as one of the most prolific figures from jazz’s golden age. Rudy’s intense dedication to his craft helped sonically shape some of the quintessential jazz recordings of all time by artists such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Thelonious Monk. We have lost a brilliant artisan and our heartfelt condolences go out to Rudy’s family, friends, and all those who benefited from his tremendous talents. He will be missed greatly.”  

Watch Rudy Van Gelder’s Oral Histories interview with NAMM, which was recorded on March 15, 2016.