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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource


Rudy Van Gelder

By Published: January 30, 2004
AAJ: In a previous interview with me, you discussed how you tried to give each label its own identity soundwise. Without getting too specific or technical, explain how you approached that and how you approached the development of Blue Note's sound.

RVG: I would like to modify something of what you said, you say it's "my sound," really what it is is my feeling and my approach to the musicians I'm recording at a particular session. I really don't like to think of it as being "my sound." What I'm doing really is trying to let the musicians be heard the way they want to be heard. What it really is is the musicians' sound.

Alfred [Lion] would be very meticulous, well-rehearsed, and he would come in and see that everything was going well and he knew what he was going to get before he came into the studio. There were other labels at that time where the producers were much looser and they would just come in and see how things went. And the musicians and the music would very much reflect that. There were two ways of looking at it and that's reflected in the way these records sound. The difference is in the producer. [Alfred] had a feeling for the music and when it was working and when it wasn't working. He was very good at that. He knew when things were working. Now that's not to say that the other producers did not know. It's just that he was the epitome of that kind of producer. He understood what was happening and actually working with him all those years allowed me to understand what is happening and that's one of the things I'm always grateful to him for.

AAJ: How did the invention of stereo effect your approach to recording jazz?

RVG: That was a problem for everyone and not just me. There was no artistic rush to get into stereo from the people I worked for. They had to get into because they had to get into it. As a matter of fact, for quite awhile Alfred and others too had to be making...this is pretty important that you understand this. They had to make two products from the same session. They had to make a mono release in order to have anyone buy it and they had to make a stereo release to make that available to people who were buying stereo. And then of course when the stereo LP came in there was this question of compatibility. Who wants to buy two albums of the same music? You had to make both available and that became very difficult so what happened was everything that was made in Hackensack was mono. Even towards the very end when we were recording two-track we weren't listening in stereo. We were recording in two-track and we were listening in mono because there was only one speaker in Hackensack in the control room and only one speaker in the studio. So how could you listen in stereo when you only have one speaker? And all the judgments, Alfred's judgments, as to mix and balance, and mine too and the musicians too and how they sounded in relationship to each other, and all that during the creative part of those recordings was done in mono. It couldn't be any other way. Towards the end we were running two-track sessions but no one had ever listened to them. So there was no particular attention or attempt at creating a stereo field at that time.

AAJ: Please discuss your approach to the new Rudy Van Gelder Edition Blue Notes in terms of working with the stereo and mono tapes and deciding which format to use for the new master.

RVG: My approach was totally different from what I had heard in the previous CDs. This was first time I had any opportunity to deal with those tapes. Once or twice they sent to me both the mono and stereo versions, which I described to you a minute ago, and the mono would sound much better for obvious reasons, because no one who had been involved in the creation of the original session had ever listened to stereo, but everyone had listened to mono. So I tried to convince them to release the mono version even though it had previously been issued as stereo because I felt that the mono version sounded as if Alfred would have wanted it to be that way. And that is really my goal here. However, there are plenty of albums in this series that are in very good stereo. Until now no one has heard my version of what these early recordings should sound like on CD.

AAJ: Tell us how this whole project came about for remastering the classic Blue Note albums.

RVG: The concept of it came from Hitoshi Namekata. He's the one that runs the Blue Note label in Japan for Toshiba-EMI. He wanted me to do it and he called Michael Cuscuna and Michael called me to see if I was interested and it ended up that absolutely I would be, just as long as I could get the original tapes whenever possible. It had nothing to do with Blue Note New York other than Michael as a producer. Subsequently, there are few issues being made in the United States. They are different. They have extra tracks on them. You see, the concept of this was to duplicate the original LPs as much as possible. They [Japan] didn't want any of the out takes or none of the additional tracks, they wanted it just as it was issued originally. Of course, that made me feel even better.

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