In the 1980s I was obsessed with Blue Note Records, the never-surpassed jazz label (at least from the 1940s through the 1960s) -- Everything about it, starting, of course, with the music and musicians, and the cover art, the history, the production, the "aura."
And the sound. What recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder did with microphones and mixing was almost as important as what Coltrane, Blakey, Silver, Monk, Powell, Mobley, ad almost infinitum, did with their instruments.
One night, well after the witching hour, I was listening with my music-loving-doppelganger Steve, and we were in our usual reverential mode when we thought, in that pre-interwebs age, "Is Rudy Van Gelder still active, still recording, still even alive. Hey, let's find out! If he is, maybe we could even ask him what it was like to record Eric Dolphy's Out To Lunch!!! [the disc we had most recently spun]. And if he is alive, he wouldn't be the kind of dude that would be sleeping at 1:00AM. He's a jazz legend himself. Jazz legends never go to bed early." You know, the kind of thing 20-something mopes think in the middle of the night high on jazz.
Directory Assistance (we certainly knew where he lived -- his studio/home location was emblazoned in the credits of every Blue Note recording -- Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey) gave us his number. I dialed it.
Hello? said the maybe-groggy voice.
Holy sh*t holy sh*t holy sh*t was I really talking to Rudy Van Gelder?!? Actually, I wasn't until I said:
Is this Rudy Van Gelder?
HOLY F*CK HOLY F*CK HOLY F*CK HOLY F*CK HOLY F*CK!
Now's our chance! Dolphy! Out To Lunch! He was THERE! Lion and Wolff saying "Take 3" and taking amazing photos! Tony Williams crashing and booming! Freddie Hubbard blazing! Richard Davis plucking and bowing! Bobby freaking Hutcherson malleting! DOLPHY!!! AAAhhhhhhh! I was screaming in my head, "Say something! Ask something!! Say ANYTHING!!!"
In a flash of utter brilliance, I hung up.
We looked at each other in disbelief that we had just "spoken with" Rudy. Van. Gelder. Slowly and quietly and out loud this time -- "Holy sh*t. Holy f*uck."
It was one of the most memorable conversations I've ever had.
So sorry for messing up your sleep, Rudy.
And thanks for those incredible recordings.
And a great memory.
Rudy Van Gelder, Rest In Peace (with no midnight phone calls in jazz heaven from bat-sh*t crazy fans).
November 2, 1924 – August 25, 2016
Dave Royko (and accomplice Steve L.)
August 27, 2016