Rudy Van Gelder on his first recording studio

Now, A Jazz Moment...

MUSIC: "See See Rider" (from Jimmy Smith RVG session), CD: Blue Note Perfect Takes , Blue Note Records: RVG Edition 724347322709 (cut 10)

NEA Jazz Master Rudy Van Gelder is regarded as one of the most important recording engineers in music history. His original studio, where he recorded much of the early Blue Note jazz catalog, was housed in his parents' living room in Hackensack, New Jersey. It was wonderfully intimate for small ensembles, but as the music evolved and the groups grew, Van Gelder knew it was time for a change.

MUSIC: "Boplicity" (Gil Evans arrangement), CD: Birth of the Cool, Capitol Jazz Records: RVG Edition 724353011727 (cut 8)

Rudy Van Gelder: I couldn't give them sound-wise what I knew they were trying to achieve. Gil Evans, he had music in his head that was just incredible and as time went on people discovered it. I was sitting there and he brought a nine-piece band into Hackensack into the living room. I knew then I couldn't do it right. Now how do you think that makes me feel? I know what we're trying to do. I want to be able to do it right for him. I have a responsibility to the producer and to the musician. I can't do that here.

In 1959, Van Gelder put every penny he had into construction of a new studio. Set back in a wooded glade, the building is the maximum height the town would allow. Now, almost 50 years later, Van Gelder's studio is considered one of the great cathedrals of jazz -- a figurative reference to the sacred crowd of jazz greats who have created music here, and a literal reference to building's appearance.

MUSIC: "Moon River" (from Art Blakey RVG session), CD: Blue Note Perfect Takes, Blue Note Records: RVG Edition 724347322709 (cut 9)

Rudy Van Gelder: (chuckles) As a matter of fact, while we were building it, the people in the neighborhood thought we were building a church.

Over the years, there's been very little change.

Rudy Van Gelder: Let me tell you, there's no paint on that ceiling. There's no varnish. That's the actual raw wood there the way it was all those years ago. They wanted to do something. They wanted to seal it. They wanted to cover it. I said, "No, don't touch it. Just leave it the way it is."

MUSIC: up and fades

This Jazz Moment with recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder was created by the National Endowment for the Arts. I'm Delfeayo Marsalis.

Rudy Van Gelder on his first recording studio