Miles Davis, Rudy Van Gelder, and a Living Room Recording Studio

September 2011
Rudy Van Gelder

Rudy Van Gelder with recording equipment

by Kyle Kelly-Yahner

The lush tones of Miles Davis are unmistakable to millions. It is common knowledge among jazz fans that Davis was heavily influenced by giants such as Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins. Yet, had it not been for a modified U47 microphone, and a family’s living room in Hackensack, New Jersey, we might not hear Davis as we do today.

In April of 1954, Davis recorded his legendary album “Walkin’” at a studio built in a living room in Hackensack. Davis previously recorded there just 2 years earlier, and was familiar with the engineer—Rudy Van Gelder. While working and researching with the Jazz Oral History Program at the museum, which aims to give comprehensive documentation of the experiences of senior jazz musicians, performers, relatives, and business associates, I found the story of Davis and Van Gelder’s collaboration particularly compelling. Part of my research included reading an interview with Van Gelder on the National Endowment for the Arts website, where he was interviewed as part of his lifetime award of being named “Jazz Master” in 2009. I was quickly taken with Van Gelder and his remarkable story, and wanted to know more.

Van Gelder is a pioneer in record engineering, sought after by many musicians for his ability to provide artists with an ideal means of communicating their music, and allowing musicians to be heard “the way they want to be heard”. Davis was no exception.

Read more here.