Interview: Rudy Van Gelder (Part 2) - JazzWax

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February 14, 2012


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"Rudy, put this on the record ... *all* of it!" -- Miles Davis said this to RVG between the interrupted intro #1 and intro #2 after which followed one of the undoubted (and widely discussed) high points in the recorded history of jazz: "The Man I Love" (take 1) with Miles, Monk, Bags, Percy & Klook.

This is one of the most brilliantly sounding studio sessions anyway, disregarding the obvious tension between its participants which didn't affect the music though. On the contrary: It deepened the music; the quarrel (was it one?) seemed to have boosted the creativity.

One of those magic Miles/ RVG moments when everything seemed to fall into place. I enjoy every second of the album (pictured above), also the green one of course, containing the rest of the session: Both takes of Bags' Groove with *the* Monk solo of the 1950's.

The pressing I have came out on the Prestige sub label Metronome, Sweden/ Denmark; it's marked with RVG, and it has cost me "only" 50 DM when I purchased it in the very hot Summer in 1985.

It clearly belongs to my desert island picks.

I hope you will ask RVG about this and other incidents, Marc. And so, as you may imagine, can't wait for part 3.

Steven C.

Thanks very much for the excellent interview, and also for the insightful comment above. You are real jazz historians.


Marc, this is fantastic. Mr. Van Gelder's acceptance presentation at the Grammys was precise, classy and understated, exactly like a good recording engineer should be.

The top photo shows some top-quality 1950's audio gear. The speaker is an Altec corner cabinet, probably containing an Altec 604 or similar speaker. In the rack you have an Altec 127 amplifier below the patchbay, probably for the monitor speaker based on their proximity. You have in the top of the rack an HP 200 oscillator and what looks like a Daven powered VU meter (to test various things in the studio, make sure they are putting out the level they should be). Two Ampex 300 full-track tape recorders. I can't tell exactly what's in the left rack, but I noticed the lathe is behind Mr. Van Gelder. So, the Altec 127 amp may be the disk-cutting amplifier (this unit, the 127B version, was commonly used to drive a mono cutting lathe). So the amplifier for the monitor speaker may be in the rack to the left. We don't see the mixing console, but I assume it's a typical 1950's design. Based on the amount of distortion we hear on drums and pianos on some RVG recordings of that era, I'd suggest the mixing console had microphone preamps, which were sometimes overloaded by the high-output European condenser mics in front of hard-playing musicians, shown in some of the Blue Note photos of that era. This is all speculation, though, just one man's opinion.

The lower photo, I think, shows that rack that's to the left in the upper photo, it's to the right in the lower photo. Mr. Van Gelder is leaning on what looks like a Scully cutting lathe. In that rack may be one of the big Altec power amps of that era, I can't tell for sure. If it is, my bet is that it is the lathe-driver amp and the 127 is the monitor amp. That also may be a Gotham disk-cutting amplifier, I just can't tell from that photo. Hopefully others will weigh in. No matter what, it's a top-drawer setup for the mid-50's. -- Tom

Frank Herzberg

Exellent interview, indeed. Thanks so much, frank herzberg

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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