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Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

November 2, 1924 – August 25, 2016

 Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

The genesis for this site began with a request. I was training to be a docent at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts and the group leader asked if anyone was interested in doing a presentation on protest music of the 1960s.

Hubris overflowing, I confidently volunteered. 

As I began to gather information, I quickly found myself spiraling down the proverbial rabbit hole. Not only did I “discover” that protest music had been around long before the 60s, but that it was still around.

The next thing I discovered was that to understand protest music, we have to place it in context. What were times in which the artist wrote the lyrics?

Soon, that expansion led to another realization: that as traditional as protest music, other art forms also have had their revolutions.

 Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Rudy Van Gelder

According to Steve Huey’s bio of Rudy Van Gelder at the All Music site, “Rudy Van Gelder was, quite simply, the greatest recording engineer in jazz history. He was responsible for just about every session on the Blue Note label from 1953 to 1967 (among thousands of others), encompassing some of jazz’s most groundbreaking and enduring classics.”

Hackensack, NJ

 Recording Engineer Rudy Van GelderLiving in northern NJ, I was surprised to find that part of that musical revolution happened in my own back yard.

During the counter-cultural decade, jazz musicians were also experimenting with their music and that experimentation coincided with technological advances to record with a quality heretofore unavailable.

Rudy Van Gelder was born on November 2, 1924 in Jersey City. He trained as an optometrist, but always loved sound and had developed an interest as a youth in microphones and electronics. 

While he was still a practicing optometrist his parents built a home in Hackensack, NJ home. He asked if the house could include a recording studio.

They said yes and he recorded there until the complete of Van Gelder Studios in July 1959. There were over 367 recording sessions in Hackensack alone.

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Jazz

Van Gelder was extremely attentive to the recording process, some might say to a fault. And jazz was his domain. According to a 2012 article in JazzWax by Benny Goldson, “Rudy’s many accomplishments and contributions include inventing techniques for capturing sound naturally in an age when most recording equipment wasn’t up to the job, the creative placement of microphones, the early use of magnetic recording tape, a recording process that wasn’t easily duplicated by other engineers, and turning his name into a brand that has been synonymous with jazz itself ever since.”

And Van Gelder’s answer to Goldson’s first question may be all we need to know: “Some people think I’m a producer. I’m not. I’m a recording engineer. I don’t hire the musicians nor do I come up with concepts for albums or how well musicians are playing. I’m there to capture the music at the time it’s being created. This requires me to concentrate on the technical aspects of the recordings, which means the equipment and how the finished product is going to sound.”

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Englewood Cliffs, NJ

 Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

After those years of part-time recording, Van Gelder decided to become a full time audio engineer in 1959. He constructed the now famous Van Gelder Studios (also his home):  445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

The Usonian movement in architecture inspired Van Gelder’s vision of the studio. Both utilitarian (simple building materials) and affordable (keep in mind that Van Gelder was still a practicing optometrist to make ends meet). Frank Lloyd Wright was a proponent of the Usonian approach and Van Gelder found David Henken, also a proponent of the vision, to design the building. 

Van Gelder, in his way, described it simply as, “The five walls allow the sound to move up into the rafters and back down without being trapped or muffled.”

In 2001, Ira Gitler wrote in a Jazz Time article: I opened my notes to The Space Book by Booker Ervin with: In the high-domed, wooden-beamed, brick-tiled, spare modernity of Rudy Van Gelder’s studio, one can get a feeling akin to religion.” Rudy didn’t say anything at the time bot in 2000 he straightened me out.  “The wooden beams are in the roof,” he explained, “and the walls are not tiles but masonry.” Duly noted, but “it remains a non-sectarian non-organized religion temple of music in which the sound and the spirit can seemingly soar unimpeded.”

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Perform, don’t touch

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder
photo by Douglas Raddick

Van Gelder was fastidious in his approach–only he could touch equipment; he always wore gloves when touching equipment; he set up mics; no food; no smoking.

He rarely spoke specifically about the various techniques he learned to get “his sound.”

To musicians, not generally known for being fastidiousness, Van Gelder’s approach  might sound too Puritan, a recipe for failure, but they, loved the Van Gelder sound and flocked to Englewood Cliffs.

Between the studio’s opening on July 20, 1959 to its closing on February 28, 2011, Van Gelder had over 1300 recording sessions.

He also was always looking for audio advances. While he may have started with aluminum lacquer-coated discs that were then reproduced on 78-rpm singles, he was one of the first audio engineers to switch to recording tape because of its flexibility and lower cost.

Today’s audiophiles might be shocked (and disappointed) to hear that in 1989 he went digital. Why? 

“If you just listen once to what it can do within my environment here, you would never want to record analogue again – and I didn’t,” he said to the trade press at the time. (Telegraph article)

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

Credits Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

One can only imagine the months of music Rudy Van Gelder recorded and left behind. If All Music’s credit list is complete, then it is an astounding legacy. 

Some would say that of the thousands of hours, you only need to listen to one album: John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.

When asked, Van Gelder said, “The most momentous recording of the 1960s for me was John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. It was hypnotic. It was exciting. It was different.”

Yet it took nearly 40 years for him to realize that. “I came to that realization only when I remastered the album for its digital reissue in 2002. You have to understand, I was busy making sure that the work was recorded perfectly. It wasn’t until I was working on updating the orignal master that I listened intently to the music.”

Rudy Van Gelder died on August 25, 2016 in Englewood Cliffs, NJ. He died in his home–down the hall from his studio. (NPR obituary)

Recording Engineer Rudy Van Gelder

 

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Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist

Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist

Happy birthday
born November 4, 1948

Buzzy Feiten was 21 when he played guitar with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band  the last day of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. The band came on at about 6 AM by the dawn’s early light for their 45 minutes set.

By the time he was 21, Feiten had already played Carnegie Hall. At 18, he had played the French horn with the American Youth Performs orchestra. His attempt to get into Julliard School of Music as a French horn player failed.

Like many musicians, Feiten was also in a local band, in this case on his home area of Long Island, NY with The Reasons Why during the summer of 1966, but his talent allowed him to branch out and back up other musicians.

Buzz Feiten tuning system

Eventually his guitar skills brought him to the attention of Paul Butterfield who hired Feiten to replace Elvin Bishop as his guitarist. From there the road led to Bethel, NY.

Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist
Buzz

Buzzy became Buzz and became the guitarist for Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals. He played on their on their Peaceful World and Island of Real albums. “Jungle Walk” came from the former.

In 1972, he was part of a project that produced the “Full Moon” album: Buzzy Feiten, Neil Larson, Gene Dinwiddie, Philip Wilson, and Freddie Beckmeier. Dinwiddie and Wilson had both been in the Butterfield band.

His credits are, not surprisingly, extensive as the AllMusic site shows. His own site is more specific and even more amazing.

Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist

Tuning system

In 1992 he developed the Buzz Feiten tuning system. According to the system’s site:

1. Shelf Nut: our exclusive Buzz Feiten Tuning System¨ (BFTS) Shelf Nut moves the strings closer to the first fret according to our Patented Formula. This eliminates sharp notes at the first three frets.

2. Intonation: your guitar’s bridge is adjusted according to our Patented Pitch Offsets, creating balanced intonation over the entire fingerboard – every fret – every string.

Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist

Feiten guitar

Buzz Feiten tuning system

In 2012 he introduced a line of guitars: I’m proud to introduce you to… an incredible new guitar line called, “SuperNova/Future Vintage”.  The Future Vintage mission is simple… I wanted to take the best elements of guitar and hardware designs from the Golden Era of the electric guitar, (1948-1970) and using those elements, create new designs that would perform up to the very highest standards of the most discriminating guitarists in the world. We all search for an instrument that feels alive, and gives back MORE than we put in. That’s when playing a guitar becomes a truly incredible experience. That’s been my mission building Buzz Feiten guitars, and the driving force behind SuperNova.

Howard Buzz Feiten Guitarist
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Father Steve Muruga Booker

Father Steve Muruga Booker

Happy birthday
27 December 1943
Muruga jamming on his invention, the Nada drum at Sage St. Studio (2015)

Father Steve Muruga Booker

I suppose every musician has their story of how they came to play.

In an 2000 interview with PT Quinn, Booker [or the original Bookvich] related his unique story: I would have to tell you that when I was a young man, I had a deep recall of being in the womb.  My mother used to go to the Latin Quarter in Detroit and hear Puncito, and I would hear the drums in the womb.  That influenced me somehow, but my Dad introduced me to the accordion at 3. I met one of his teachers… Misha Vishkov from Hamtramick at 6.  As well as accordion, Misha played the drums.  I’m a Serbian son raised with the gypsies. I liked the drum when he played it.  I wanted to play so I started at 14 and had some good teachers in high school.  At the Record Hop I noticed I could move all 4 of my limbs with the beat, and that would be the drums. 

Father Steve Muruga Booker

Woodstock

Steve Booker was the drummer who backed Tim Hardin at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, but at that time he was simply Steve Booker. He  was about to leave the Paul Winter Consort which had also included Woodstock band mates Ralph Towner and Richard Bock.

In any case, the way Steve relates his Woodstock connection, (from a Detroit Metro Times piece). “One day while in New York City, I went to see Jim and Jean. They were going to a jam at the Café au Go Go on Bleecker Street in the Village, which was the happening hippie place at that time. …Tim Hardin was also [there].  …I approached him… while walking down Bleecker Street. He said if I’m ever in need of a gig to call him, and he gave me his Woodstock home phone number.

Booker showed up a week later with friend Richard Bock. Hardin offered them both a spot in his then-organizing band.  They agreed and Hardin left them to practice without him for two days. Luckily, the group was used to improvisation and did well until Hardin returned.

Unfortunately, Hardin’s performance, despite the stellar back up band, was not one to remember. Being intimate on a drizzly evening in front of 400,000 people was not what a Hardin performance was made for.

Father Steve Muruga Booker

Swami Satchidanada

For Booker the event was literally life-changing. He met Swami Satchidananda whose spirituality immediately impressed Booker. Booker studied with the Swami for several years and it was Satchidananda who gave the name “Muruga” to Booker.

Booker continued to be a musician and eventually was ordained an Orthodox priest. Today he operates his own chapel, St. Gregory Palamas, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His spirituality led him to invent the nada drum, a variation on the talking drum.

Father Steve Muruga Booker

Michigan

The list of people Booker has played with is a who’s who of musicians. A very partial list includes: Peter Gabriel, George Clinton, Merle Sanders, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, John Lee Hooker, Al Kooper, Ted Nugent, and Dave Brubeck. (a more complete list)

Born in Michigan, he returned there to live in 2000.

Not surprisingly, when asked what his greatest success was, Booker’s response was, “My happy family: wife, Patty; son, Aaron; daughter, Rani; and my priesthood.”

Booker’s own words best sum up his life now:  You could say that the spirit of Woodstock continues for many of us through the spirit and heart that’s still in the music we love to play.

Father Steve Muruga Booker
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