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. The signature of a Van Gelder recording lies in the rich, natural tone of each instrument and the clearly defined separation between them, ensuring that every sonic detail is audible. What's more, Van Gelder had an uncanny knack for capturing sonic textures that supported whatever mood the musicians and producers were aiming at. Exactly how he did all that is a mystery. Van Gelder, a modest and unassuming man in many ways, was fiercely protective of his techniques, from the placement of microphones and musicians in the room to the type of mike itself. Whatever the source of his alchemy, Van Gelder was responsible for preserving some of America's greatest music in the most sympathetic settings possible.
A onetime ham radio operator, Van Gelder was initially an optometrist by day; as a hobby, he set up a studio in his parents' living room in Hackensack, New Jersey, and began recording local jazz musicians. In 1953, saxophonist Gil Mellé introduced Van Gelder to Blue Note founder Alfred Lion, who was immediately impressed with Van Gelder's capabilities and began a 14-year association with him. Van Gelder's crystal-clear recordings helped make Blue Note's reputation as an elite jazz label despite its relatively small size. In 1959, he finally quit his day job and moved his studio to a new facility in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where he remained ever since. He broke off with Blue Note in 1967 amid the label's post-sale overhaul, later becoming the house engineer at Creed Taylor's CTI label in the early '70s. Van Gelder later freelanced for a variety of labels and, beginning in 1999, Blue Note reissued 24-bit Van Gelder remasters of some of the label's greatest albums.