July 4, 2014

The Van Gelder Sessions


Rudy Van Gelder Began Recording Jazz Greats Like Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Art Blakely and John Coltrane For Blue Note In His Parent’s New Jersey Living Room

By Carter James ~

I often tell my friends who own record stores that the potentially biggest market for them is people who don’t even have vinyl, yet. It’s that teenager who is yet to make the grand voyage from iTunes for Black Keys to glorious 180-gram vinyl. Or someone like me who hadn’t owned records for over 20 years and then began enjoying a turntable rebirth. More ears means classic labels need to get the essentials back to the bins.

One label that seems intent on answering the expanding market for vinyl is Blue Note. I came across the reissue of John Coltrane Blue Trane having already been lucky enough to find a vintage copy. It wasn’t until later, around the time Blue Note brought back Cannonball Adderleys’ Somethin’ Else that I realized Blue Note was in the midst of a grand celebration.

On March 25th, Blue Note began celebrating its 75th Anniversary of classic legendary jazz with a monthly series of relatively affordable reissues. They may not be 180-gram but they are 100 percent back in print. At a place and price the wallet can handle, comes a chance to be swept away by classics the likes of which made a poetic explorer like Jack Kerouac want to see all fifty states all at once. Those of us starting over should be overjoyed to spin the deliberate percussive mania of Art Blakey Free For All or the soothing peace of Grant Green Idle Moments. Besides the fan who is starting over in vinyl when real life happens, hopefully some avid listeners will share an affordable give with loved ones and bring new admirers to these worthy Blue Note offerings.

Blue-Note-Official-Blue-Note-Records-1939-Design-on-White-TeeThe historic venues of New York and New Orleans (jazz’s birthplace) may hold world renown but one of the all time greatest locations for creative expression in the genre was 25 Prospect Avenue in Hackensack, NJ. It was here, in 1952, in his parents’ living room, that producer Rudy Van Gelder began to capture some of the most creative and intellectually uplifting music ever made. Future or already legendary players would gather in incredible combinations and make the music that the lucky among us are still celebrating to this day. Van Gelder moved to an ‘actual’ studio in 1959 in nearby Englewood Cliffs. Somethin’ Else, recorded in 1958 in Hackensack at the Van Gelder home is one of the few sessions being celebrated in this reissue series that was recorded there,
with most coming from recording time logged in nearby Englewood Cliffs.

The energy of sound from the rooms in which Van Gelder captured this music comes alive in a grateful listener’s own room when these records play. The bandleader of each session had the great fortune of making music with collaborators of unparalleled creative dex-terity. Miles Davis. Herbie Hancock. Art Blakey, John Coltrane. Grant Green. There are no greater musicians than the likes of these. Put them together and hype their names on an elegant and minimal cover and that’s the Blue Note formula.

Long before Norah Jones would become the Blue Note all time best seller the label’s considerable reputation expanded as the records from these sessions began to his the shelves in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Van Gelder’s sessions for Blue Note are rare and compelling combinations that explore vast sonic terrain. It’s fun to look at the covers of the records and see all the revered names. Titan like Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Ron Carter on bass play on several. One of which is the great, Speak No Evil, by Miles Davis’ proficient post Coltrane sax man, Wayne Shorter and features his future Miles Davis Quintet band mate Herbie Hancock on piano. It is relaxing and thoughtful listen that affords a rare chance to hear these geniuses play with Elvin Jones on drums. Jones was the drummer for my favorite group the John Coltrane Quartet who would record their spiritual landmark A Love Supreme in Englewood Cliffs from Impulse in 1964.

Hubbard and Carter also bring the best to Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. George Coleman’s brief time with Miles is often ignored and sometimes maligned but his playing here is certainly enjoyable. Tony Williams, billed as Anthony here, holds it down on drums to the utmost just as he would do with Herbie in Miles’ next quintet. Indeed Hancock made monumental impact in many eras but even before all that electricity of “Chameleon” or the beats of “Rockit” he was making the most thoughtfully beautiful jazz on Voyage and the forthcoming reissue of Empyrian Isles. Isles is one I am especially looking to share with the discerning ears of loved ones.

Sonny Rollins A Night at the Village Vanguard Vol. 1 marked the first time a gig at the esteemed club was preserved for posterity on record. It is a fitting symbol of the evolving scene emerging in which these boundless creators were given the right chapels like the Vanguard and Birdland in which to compose and recompose great American musical prayers. By contrast Ornette Coleman Trio at the Golden Circle Vol. 1 celebrates Europe’s obsession with these sounds. Its cover depicts a proud trio in beautiful Stockholm snow at an epicenter of the region that was fully embracing the sounds of Dexter Gordon and Coleman Hawkins. These two live records represent where jazz was at then but sound fresh and immediate when played right now.

Besides putting some of their greatest gems on vinyl, Blue Note kicked off the festivities by holding a weeklong event with a roster of national treasures like McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson, Lou Donaldson as well as the aforementioned Shorter and Rollins. From May 4 thru 11 these pioneers and modern figures of jazz like Terrance Blanchard and Norah Jones filled Washington DC with wonderful improvised sound. Those of us who couldn’t catch that will have plenty of time to catch up with the real party on vinyl. It continues through

For the complete list and release dates check out the Blue Note website:


  1. Disco

    I see that Maiden Voyage has been reissued. I’m really looking forward to Empyrean Isles though. That’s my favourite of the Herbie Blue Notes.

  2. These guys Previously used to Laugh about japan – Nowadays We laugh at all of them

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