The most important sound engineer in jazz history has died, aged 91
If you’ve ever heard a jazz record, chances are you’ve heard the work of Rudy Van Gelder. But you wouldn’t have heard him playing the drums, the piano, the saxophone, or the trumpet (although he had lessons in his youth) – and you wouldn’t have heard him singing into the microphone. That’s because he was the microphone. In a manner of speaking. Born in New Jersey on 2 November 1924, Rudolph (Rudy) Van Gelder became the most prominent sound engineer in American jazz history. He recorded just about every major figure in the canon, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins.

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“I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.” — John Coltrane

Recommended Records

  • A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965)
  • Blue Train (Blue Note, 1958)
  • Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1959)

Read More: John Coltrane: Becoming “a force for good” • A Love Supreme: 51st Anniversary • A Love Supreme: Rare Photographs of John Coltrane • Writing a Life of John Coltrane

From Nelson George (Smithsonian.com)
John Coltrane. Photograph: Chuck Stewart
John Coltrane. Photograph: Chuck Stewart

On December 9, 1964, saxophonist John Coltrane led a quartet that featured pianist McCoy Tyner, drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison into Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where countless jazz recording sessions were held in the 1950s and ’60s. For photographer Chuck Stewart, Van Gelder’s was a short drive from his home in Teaneck.

That day nearly 50 years ago the band recorded a Coltrane composition titled A Love Supreme, a profound expression of his spiritual awakening divided into four movements—“Acknowledgement,” “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” “Psalm.” For its soaring ambition, flawless execution and raw power, it was hailed as a groundbreaking piece of music when it was released in February 1965, and it has endured as a seminal part of the jazz canon. The work and its composer will be highlighted anew this April during Jazz Appreciation Month, an annual event launched in 2001 by the National Museum of American History, whose collection includes Coltrane’s original manuscript for A Love Supreme. (more…)