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  • RESEARCH: An Optometrist's Dream Come True

    "When I'd see photos of jazz musicians recording or performing, I found myself looking at the mics, not them."  - Rudy Van Gelder, JazzWax.com

         Rudy Van Gelder was an optometrist who gained pleasure from recording sound. Our musicians were merely characters in his recording fantasies, of no more importance than their instruments or the furniture that decorated the rooms in which they recorded. But, why would an optometrist's name be plastered across the front and back covers of albums, in big letters, as if he was doing something special by indulging his fantasy? I would argue that the musicians did not demand his humility, and so he believed that he was contributing to the music. In actuality, as beautiful as the music may have sounded in the end, he had nothing to do with that beauty. He was simply employed to record it.

         His refusal to rebuke the celebration of his name has inevitably tarnished the legacy that he might have enjoyed, had he actually been of help to the village, which was being represented in the music. Of course, while Miles Davis was being beaten by the police for 'standing around' outside of his own show, Rudy Van Gelder was inevitably enjoying a life of not being beaten. In fact, he opened his 'famous' studio during the very summer of 1959 that this beating incident took place. I would not deny that Van Gelder managed to cultivate a certain sound from his techniques. It was a nice sound. But, it is a sound that isn't particularly remarkable, in comparison to other recording engineers. I find the celebration of his name to be an enduring hipster trend. Of course, we can only imagine what it would sound like if Miles Davis recorded his own albums, as an engineer. It certainly would have been a truer sound, more in tune with the music. It is simply a matter of genuine respect for the music and genuine interest in the music.

         Honestly, many musicians did not want to be recorded at all and only did it for money.  The intention of every style of music coming from our People, long before recording technology, was to play it for the village. This particular optometrist was not from the village. Yet, when you listen to certain albums on Spotify or buy them from Amazon, you will find that his name has been submitted as part of the titles of many albums. I am sure that Kenny Dorham did not actually put Rudy Van Gelder's name in any of the titles of his songs, nor did any of the other musicians. 

         I find it laughable that this optometrist has a collection of music called “The Best of Rudy Van Gelder.” There is even an album called “Blue Note Perfect Takes” where his photo and the words "Blue Note" are huge and Thelonious Monk, Joe Henderson and others have their names printed in tiny letters. Once again, in actuality, the recording engineer has nothing to do with a take being perfect. That phrase refers to the musicians playing the music impeccably. If Rudy Van Gelder had an ounce of humility about him, an ounce of respect for our music, he would have objected to this. Indeed, most of these albums where his name is listed on the front cover, or the spine, the sidemen in the actual band don't even get to have their names there. It is downright pitiful that this man and the corporations that employed him would take advantage of the plantation situation like this. For, can we not tell the truth, even if he isn't here to feel the sting of it?  It is a shame that our musicians have such a legacy of weakness, that no one has really called this man out for this. But, I'll say it again and again. Rudy Van Gelder is Stephen Foster is Bill Evans is Bobby Caldwell is Eminem is Stevie Ray Vaughn.