Two things that have come to my attention about the legendary Van Gelder Studio are worth taking a few minutes for. The first is a New York Times Article about the current studio and the problems they are having keeping it going. The second is a new book about recording sessions at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio. Let’s get to it.
Before we do, if you’d like to listen to some vintage jazz, press play – the reason will become apparent later.
Plotting the Future of the Most Storied Studio in Jazz
Writing in the New York Times on July 19th, Ben Sisario, long time music writer for the NY Times, looks at the current state of the hallowed halls of the Van Gelder studio. Ben interviews Maureen Sickler and her husband Don about the Van Gelder legacy, or possibly boat anchor? The picture and words make it seem the studio is pretty run down and in need of help.
In reality, the Van Gelder studio was solidly built, and the equipment at its peak, second to none, but that was a long time ago.
The rest of the studio though was of its time, and it may be stuck there unless the Stickler’s and friends can pull a rabbit out of a hat. Restoration will take a lot money to do a serious upgrade. With or with a rabbit, it will need a serious sponsor to make it the landmark it should be.
If there are any tech’ billionaires who stumble across this, get in touch. Otherwise, it’s going to take a major philanthropical effort to restore and keep it up, plus tours, recording and anything to bring in the $$$.
Sisario though doesn’t get close to Van Gelder’s true legacy. It has nothing to do with “white gloves”, nothing to do with “fake microphones”, or other secret source. Rudy’s legacy was that he worked for a great price and the studio was affordable to rent for a few days, or as Creed did occasionally slip in, record, and slip out between other established labels. Van Gelder’s studio was close to New York City, but still far enough away that it had to have some magic to keep the giants, maestro’s, peerless and unequaled jazz stars of the sixties and seventies coming back.
That Magic? Price, convenience, and accessibility. Apart from Rudy and assistant Maureen Sackler, and maybe the producer, it was a place for musicians to drop in and out as needed, none of the security and accoutrements of the modern music business. New jersey back then was also an affordable place for the musicians to live. Increasingly New York City was not. It’s no coincidence that George Benson set up home with his wife, Johnnie and their sons down the street in Englewood Cliffs in 1976.
Pictures courtesy & copyright of Ebony Magazine and Ebony Media Operations, LLC – November 1977
Yes, Rudy’s recordings had a special sound, he was a master who kept his cards close to his chest, think more Obi-Wan Kinobe than Skywalker or Vader. You either liked Van Gelder’s recordings or you didn’t, but history teaches us that way more did than didn’t. His legacy allowed hundreds of otherwise little-known musicians to record on affordable dates, my favorite being of course Grover Washington Jr. who was a late stand-in for Hank CrawfordHappy Born Day: Grover Washington, Jr. – Creed Taylor Produced (ctproduced.com). At a major recording studio in New York, would Creed have cancelled the session? We’ll never know. Rudy Van Gelder recorded thousands of tracks, many the soundtrack to our lives.
If you’d like to read the New York Times article by Ben Sisario, click on the article image capture, or take this link for a ctproduced sponsored read that bypasses the paywall for those that don’t have a subscription.
Complete Recording Sessions of Rudy Van Gelder (1953-2011)
This 2018(?) compendium of studio recordings by Michael Malott comes to us at $59.99 for a sizeable tome of some 500 pages. I hadn’t heard of this book, I’m obviously not on the right mailing list. I do read Doug Payne’s “Sound Insights” though and Doug posted a review on July 9thhttp://dougpayne.blogspot.com/2022/07/complete-recording-sessions-of-rudy-van.html.
Let’s start here, unlike Doug who bought the actual physical book, I already spend too much of my time scanning hardcopy books and magazines. I try to avoid buying anything that is already available in digital format, except music, I always try to buy vinyl first. Yes, amazon has a Kindle version, it’s $3.99. The Kindle reader isn’t great, but the books are available on desktop, cloud and mobile. Which makes great for reference.
For me, it’s “buyer beware”. It must have been a massive effort to compile this. There are enough errors or omissions on the first entry for me not to be able to recommend it. I make mistakes all the time in prose, but don’t have an editor, fact checker and publisher behind me, except you the readers.
Doug also has a longer précis of Malott work, and finds it comes up short on quite a few Creed Taylor related itemshttp://dougpayne.blogspot.com/2022/07/complete-recording-sessions-of-rudy-van.html. It certainly didn’t help me sort out the question of when Joe Beck’s “Beck” Kudu album was recorded and releasedhttps://www.ctproduced.com/happy-born-day-joe-beck/. Especially since it lists two albums recorded by Beck in March 1975, “Beck” and “Beck & Sanborn“, the latter being mostly the CD remaster/rerelease of the former. No additional information is given for the additional two tracks, and that’s one of the major omissions of this book, it doesn’t list the tracks recorded or much of anything except date, album, plus artists. Some entries include additional notes.
The book includes a short introduction, a few pictures that we’ve for the most part seen before. The book then launches into Gil Mellé’s 1953 album “New Faces, New Sounds“, which we learn was recorded on January 31st, 1953 and released as a 10” mono recording by Blue Note BLP 5020. This was followed by Kenny Drew’s April 16th recording, also entitled “New Faces, New Sounds“, also a Blue Note 10” mono pressing BLP 5023.
For me, there’s already a problem, and for the most part I have only a passing interest in Blue Note recording minutia. First, the Sextet tracks on side-B were recorded in 1952, on March 2nd to be preciseBooklet page from “The Complete Blue Note Fifties Sessions”.https://www.discogs.com/release/1518505-Gil-Mell%C3%A9-The-Complete-Blue-Note-Fifties-Sessions. We also know this because the exact same tracks were issued on two Blue Note 10″ 78RPM Shelac discs, 1606-1607. The latter includes the Twin Peaks-like, haunting vocal by Monica Dell on the track “Mars”.
When the album was reviewed in Down Beat, Vol. 20, Issue 10 – May 20th, 1953 it said: “First four, released and reviewed as 78s, have Eddie Bert, trombone; Joe Manning, vibes; George Washington, piano; Red Mitchell, bass; Max Roach, drums, and Monica Dell, vocal effects.” The Quartet tracks from side-A were also released in 1953 as a 7″ EP of the same name, as Blue Note 203.
It’s arguable that the title of both the Mellé and Drew albums is the same. Personally, I think of it as a sub-series title, especially as at least 14 other Blue Note albums were also released around that time with the same titleBlue Note New Faces, New Sounds music | Discogs. Later in 1953 “Gil Mellé’s Quartet Volume II” was released, followed in 1954 by volume III. The album should have been “Gil Mellé’s Quartet / Sextet”. Discogs also lists the title as the same and since it is my first point of reference in my process of trust but verify research a, I’m prepared to let that slide.
That’s just the first entry.
The note on the Amazon listing note that says
Initially released erroneously by the publisher with writer’s reference list and notes instead of the actual book text file. This book is now revised by the publisher with the correct text.ASIN : B07HWZZ9FT
Publication date : September 30, 2018
The Kindle version needs work, I’m not a great Kindle reader or user, there is no actual table of contents, just two bookmarks, messy quote boxes that often flow over the box, among other problems. Ultimately there are more useful and more accurate sources online. This looks like a self published effort with no real oversight or indepent effort by the publisher.
That’s why I’m unable to endorse the book