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Recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder has died

Engineer of hundreds of recordings for Blue Note and other labels passes away at 91

The legendary jazz recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder has died at the age of 91, The New York Times reported.

Van Gelder, an optomistrist by trade, began making recordings in a makeshift studio in his parents' house in Hackensack, New Jersey. He was recommended to Blue Note Records in 1952 and the following year took over responsibilities for recording engineering at the label. The painstaking detail of his recordings came to define the sound of jazz. Richard Cook, former Editor of The Wire, called Van Gelder's method of recording and mixing the piano “as distinctive as the pianists' playing itself” in his book Blue Note Records: The Biography. Electronic producer Kirk Degiorgio, interviewed in The Wire 160, declared that “before Blue Note you couldn't really hear a cymbal on a jazz record. Rudy Van Gelder pioneered that whole idea of the importance of the recording.” But Van Gelder himself, however, was deferential: “the Rudy Van Gelder sound is really the Alfred Lion sound,” he said, crediting the Blue Note producer.

Van Gelder was so prolific in the 1950 and 60s that putting a precise figure on how many albums he had a hand in is almost impossible – including engineering, mastering and remastering, the total runs into thousands. He recorded all styles of jazz, from bebop to fusion to free jazz, and worked not just for for Blue Note but for Verve, Prestige and Impulse!. It was for the latter that he recorded John Coltrane's A Love Supreme in 1964.