So 2016 has claimed another musical legend, if somewhat obscure. Sadly just weeks after I blogged about him here, Rudy Van Gelder has died. RVG was the ears behind some of the most distinctive post war jazz recordings, working out of his home studio in Englewood. In the realm of how jazz sounds, he was up there with the likes of Quincy Jones, Gil Evans and Teo Macero in terms of engineering and production input.
I had cursed him by writing that he was still alive at the age of 91. He died at home a few weeks later, the place in which he had created his magic all those years.
Rudy was like a kitemark. If you saw an LP with “RVG” in the run off groove, then it was worth a punt.
When the CD boom took off, a jazz LP reissued and denoted as a “Rudy Van Gelder Edition” was equally destined to fulfil its promise, the remastering done with warmth and clarity.
A few months ago, I had stumbled upon NeverEnoughRhodes, a website dedicated to the electric piano that was key to sixties and seventies jazz. There was a somewhat naughty compilation on the site, entitled “Man With A Suitcase“. It was a mix of tracks that Herbie Hancock had guested on, whilst maintaining his prodigious appetite in the 1970s.
It is full of brilliant material, most of which I wasn’t familiar with. In particular, there was a track from Milt Jackson’s “Sunflower” LP. Released in 1973, the song “People Make The World Go Round” was a funky as hell slow burn. Milt’s vibes and Herbie’s Rhodes combined brilliantly.
Milt was the coolest vibraphone player around, nicknamed “Bags” due to the permanent dark lines under his eyes, caused by staying up late, playing his music. Anyway, I was hooked and found the LP on eBay, going for a song.
It was on my doormat when I got back from holiday. I opened it, popped it on, listened and opened up the gatefold sleeve. And alongside Creed Taylor’s production credit, who recorded the LP?
It was Rudy of course. It sounds just great, especially the version of “Little Sunflower” with Freddie Hubbard playing trumpet on his own recording. It is less a Milt Jackson album and more a stellar jazz group LP, featuring amongst Freddie and Herbie, such luminaries as Ron Carter and Billy Cobham, both alumni of Miles Davis’s bands. Added to that, is Creed Taylor as producer, the man who signed John Coltrane to Impulse Records for the run of LPs up to his death.
Rudy wasn’t a vinyl purist and had this to say about the digital age in 1995:
As far as I’m concerned, good riddance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don’t like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it.
There’s been a few jazz deaths in recent days, including RVG’s old Blue Note buddy and fellow Vibraphone player, Bobby Hutchinson. Bobby recorded some of my favourite Blue Note LP’s at Rudy’s home studio including “Components” in 1965. The second track “Tranquility” is just wonderful, featuring………….. Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter.
It’s a small world and Rudy was central to it.
So one of the more aged musical passings of this hellish year, but as I get older and listen to more Blue Note, and more jazz in general, well, I’m probably listening to more Rudy Van Gelder.