Rudy in Birdland

After a weekend of online reading about the inestimable Rudy Van Gelder and listening to many of his great studio engineering jobs for Prestige and Blue Note, I came to the conclusion that perhaps my favorite example of Rudy’s engineering, as well as classic bebop on Blue Note, is also one of the very first live records, one that showed the advantages of the 12 inch long player and also the great improvements in recording technology that had become widely available after WWII. To my ears and intermittently functioning brain, Art Blakey’s A Night At Birdland, Vol. 1 remains a landmark of both bebop and the earliest live recordings of jazz in a club setting. And of course, Rudy, the former optometrist, was right at the center of it all. Jazz producer Michael Cuscuna, who produced the 2001 24-bit RVG Edition CD reissue of A Night At Birdland told me that Van Gelder went into the club on the afternoon of the gig and did a quick setup.

“Rudy had one or two machines that were mono and took 7” reels,” Cuscuna wrote me in a recent email. “That’s the way all of his mid ‘50s remotes were done. He once showed me his invoice for that gig. He charged $37.50!

Just for the heck of it, I used a webtool to calculate how much that might be in today’s dollars. According to, $37.50 in 1954 would equal somewhere between between $269.00 and $1,720.00 today. Not terrible, but no king’s ransom either! The opening track below is just a sample of the power and chemistry inherent in this quintet, with Blakey on drums and Curly Russell on bass, Horace Silver on piano, Lou Donaldson on alto and one of the great What Ifs of jazz, trumpeter Clifford Brown, who died a little over two years after the Birdland set was recorded. This recording of Dizzy's "A Night In Tunisia" is one of the best. And the introduction by Pee Wee Marquette, one of the great characters of jazz, is an utter classic. For even more fun, google Pee Wee Marquette and Lester Young and see what comes up!

NeilS's picture

I think the most succinct demonstration of how much the world lost with Clifford Brown's death at 25 is in his two and a half minutes of jaw-dropping performance on "Summertime" on Dinah Washington's live 1954 album, "Dinah Jams".

volvic's picture

One of the great live albums of all time. What if about Clifford Brown is so true, he might just have eclipsed Miles, but we'll never know, but we have these amazing recordings and have Rudy van Gelder to thank for this.

JRT's picture

"What if about Clifford Brown is so true, he might just have eclipsed Miles, but we'll never know..." - volvic

I doubt either would eclipse the other. At a time when the trumpet was a much more popular musical instrument among young aspiring musicians, Clifford and Miles were both greats among greats, while also very different from each other in many ways.

Allen Fant's picture

Nice piece- RB. No doubt, a true labor of love for EVG.
Thankfully, we will always have the Music!