Jazz 98.5  FM WSAX-LP
ed Stories

Jim Meredith
Jazz 98.5 FM Editor

Continued from previous pages

Analog 24 Track Legacy with
Rudy Van Gelder

Columbus OH

New Jersey native Rudy Van Gelder has been the sound engineer for more jazz recordings than any other person.  Rudy started recording his friends’ music in his parents' living room in Hackensack, New Jersey, as a hobby.  He wanted to re-create the audio experience of live music.  Eventually his growing reputation created such a demand that he quit his day job as an optometrist and began to record music full time.  “When I first started, I was interested in improving the quality of the playback equipment I had,” Van Gelder explains. “I never was really happy with what I heard.  When I started making records, there was no quality recording equipment available to me.  I had to build my own mixer. The only people who had quality equipment were the big companies.” 

In 1953 Alfred Lion, the head of Blue Note records, heard a recording that Van Gelder had engineered.  Lion told his Blue Note staff to duplicate the quality of that record.  The engineer listened to it and told Lion, "Look, I can't make it sound like that.  You better go to the guy who did it."  From that point on, the name Rudy Van Gelder became synonymous with quality recorded music as found on such labels as Prestige, Impulse, Verve, and CTI as well as virtually the entire Blue Note output.

Rudy explains how his name came to be identified with the Blue Note sound:Most of it was [Lion’s] concept of how he wanted his own records to sound and how he approached that.  The task which he gave me was to make sure that I could get for him what he wanted out of the musicians.  Every session he made I recorded for him, so that label got a distinctive sound that way. There was a certain consistency and the people who bought those records would look forward to what was coming next because they knew the record would have a good sound.”

In 1959 Van Gelder took the recording business out of his parents’ living room [literally] in Hackensack and opened a new, state-of the-art studio at 445 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.  His new facility included living quarters totally separate from his main studio. He gave up optometry in order to make records full time.  Van Gelder was secretive in guarding his equipment and methods.  Usually a gentle man, Rudy could become agitated when people became careless with food or drink, particularly if anything was placed on the studio piano or organ. 

During his years in the business Van Gelder witnessed several key recording breakthroughs:  long-play records replacing the 78 rpm record; stereo sound replacing mono; and digital recording largely replacing analog.  Though not a young man, Van Gelder has been an enthusiastic supporter of digital audio and an avid user of new technology. “I believe today's equipment is fantastic,” he says. “I wouldn't want to face a session without the editing capabilities of digital.”  Van Gelder is less enthusiastic about the products available for home use. “Quality in the home playback phase is questionable: home theater with dinky so-called satellite speakers and subwoofers, ads saying you can get surround sound in your laptop computer, MP3s, lossy compression, music through your cell phone, streaming music on the Internet — come on!” 

In addition to the extensive Blue Note roster of stars, Van Gelder has worked with Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, Pharaoh Sanders, Oliver Nelson, and McCoy Tyner, just to name a few.  He sums up his approach in a few simple words:  “Quality is what drives the work I do.”  During the era of the twelve-inch vinyl lp records, at least a few collectors carefully studied the smooth, shiny space between the end of the recorded track and the round paper label.  If one found either the letters “RVG” or the name “Van Gelder,” etched or stamped into the vinyl, one could assume a quality sonic experience was in store.

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Article by: Jim Meredith

Who’s Who – An historical perspective of jazz in Columbus

Continued from previous page

The city is certainly making an effort to support the
art form through programs or groups such as the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, through the Jazz Arts Group and their youth related school jazz programs that helps fill the pipeline of new students learning the jazz music genre and art form.  Here are those that have flourished, survived and/or, are up in coming:

Tomorrow and Conclusion

The stark reality is that in my opinion, without the continued education of the public that listens to and enjoys jazz, the number of enthusiasts, fans, musicians and venues may continue to dwindle.  The art form of jazz will not die but, when one considers that jazz has splintered into over 30 various sub-genres, whether as a result of the individual musician’s playing style, and/or the music industry’s intentional or unintentional effort to separate, define or redefine the various nuances, rhythms and styles of the music, keeping the public interest and enthusiasm becomes an even more difficult task.

Today, there are fewer venues hosting live jazz music as a staple.  In Columbus today, there is no commercial jazz radio station.  When you factor in the decline of the number of radio stations that carry jazz as a format, thus reducing the number of places where people can listen to jazz via the radio medium and, you also factor in the loss of venues that specifically offer jazz as its regular and primary format that features jazz in a true jazz club venue environment, you can quickly see and understand the decline in the number of places that give home to jazz musicians to practice and hone their craft, and/or win over new supporters and fans.  It also doesn’t help that music education in our schools has been reduced or discontinued.

For readers that are not aware, there is a community radio station that stood up, changed its format entirely dedicated to jazz music, branded itself as such, and now carries the torch as the only jazz radio station in Columbus.  That radio station is Jazz 102.1 FM, WCRX-LP.  They’re currently on the air 12 hours a day from 3 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily but deserve to be heard.  More information about the station is available at www.myjazz102.com.  Help support their effort to keep jazz music on the radio and feature your local Columbus jazz musicians.

We need more venues and radio stations to carry this wonderful music if the art form is to flourish and survive.  Do your part.  Support local jazz music, the musicians, the venues and the radio stations, and jazz will live on as more than a memory. - END

Article by: Sax Johnson

The Gospel According To
Billie, Charles, Max, Sonny, and Gil

Columbus OH

Sometimes music does more than just entertain us.  Music speaks to the human heart in ways that comfort us when we are afflicted or in ways that afflict us when we are too comfortable.  Thus, music--like religion—is capable of healing broken hearts as well as challenging broken society.

In our own national history, jazz music, in particular, has been more than just a background soundtrack for the American civil rights movement; it has been a means by which the gospel of human equality is declared and by which the evils of racism are condemned.  If you are not familiar with the musical examples cited in this article, please make these historic examples a part of your music listening homework.

Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit:  In April 1939 Billie Holiday made her first studio recordings for the Commodore label.  Although she did not write it, “Strange Fruit,” a song from her first Commodore session, became so identified with Holiday to the extent that few other singers dared to record it until Cassandra Wilson did so in 1995.  When singing
the song in live performance, Billie insisted upon complete silence before beginning and offered no encore after the song’s conclusion.  The meaning
of the term “strange fruit” becomes clear when one recognizes the chilling lyric as a protest against black lynchings in America: 

Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the
    leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the southern breeze,
   strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Charles Mingus, Original Faubus Fables:  In
1960 bassist Charles Mingus recorded a vocal version of his tune “Fables of Faubus.”  The term “original” distinguishes the 1960 version from the 1959 Columbia release of the same tune, minus
the vocals.  Columbia refused to record any version that included Mingus’ inflammatory lyrics. Orville Faubus was governor of the state of Arkansas; and the raucous words of “Original Faubus Fables”
attack him as a racist with, according to one critic, “a deadly rapier thrust as a mock villain whom no
one really takes seriously.” 

Candid records, the small label that released the controversial version of Mingus’ “Original Faubus Fables,” also in 1960 recorded Max Roach’s album “We Insist!  Freedom Now Suite.”  Singer Abbey Lincoln conveyed the messages contained in such songs as “Triptych:  Prayer/Protest/Peace,” “Freedom Day,” and “Tears For Johannesburg.”  Roach’s Freedom Now Suite invites comparison with a Sonny Rollins title composed two years earlier: “Freedom Suite.”  Rollins’ extended composition included no lyrics; but a brief statement printed on the back of the record cover let listeners know that Sonny stood alongside Holiday, Mingus, Roach, and the many other musicians who supported equal rights for all.

Gil Scott-Heron [April 1, 1949 – May 27, 2011]
was known primarily as a
spoken word artist in the 1970s and '80s.  His satirical musical fusion of jazz, blues, and soul addressed social and political issues of the time in many of the same ways as had the other examples cited in this article.  Noteworthy Scott-Heron titles include “The Revolution Will
Not Be Televised,”  ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is,” “Guerilla,”
and “Save The Children.”  His early 1970’s music influenced later African-American music genres such as
hip hop and neo soul.

Some people call jazz “America’s classical music.”  That term implies that jazz has strong ties with a number of causes, eras, or movements in our nation’s history.  It is not throwaway music, but, rather, something that has an enduring impact.  When hearts are gripped by a passionate cause, quite often that cause will find musical expression.

That’s the gospel according to Billie, Charles, Max, Sonny, and Gil.

Article by: Jim Meredith

The Irish Contribution To Jazz

Marion, Ohio, and West Coast Jazz

Columbus OH

The arrival of March means that we’ll soon turn our clocks ahead one hour; we’ll soon welcome the official beginning of spring; for basketball fans it means March Madness, and we’ll soon celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  In connection with St. Patrick and all things Irish, I share some little-known Irish-flavored history concerning central Ohio’s role in the story of jazz. 

In 1927 Gerry Mulligan, the famous baritone sax player, composer, and band leader, was born, the fourth of four sons.  George, Gerry’s father, was Irish; his wife was one-half Irish.  Mr. Mulligan was a railroad employee for many years, so his family moved often during Gerry’s childhood. 

When Gerry was a baby, the family moved from New York City to
Marion, Ohio, where his father worked for the Marion Power Shovel Company.  With a large home and four energetic boys to raise, Mulligan's mother needed help.  Thus, the family hired an African-American nanny named Lily Rose [or Rowan], who was especially fond of the youngest son.  Gerry was captivated by Lily's player piano as he discovered the music of Fats Waller and others.

Black musicians often came through Marion, and because many hotels would not take them, they often stayed with local black families.  Thus, young Mulligan often met real jazz stars staying at Lily's home.  One might conclude that his taste for jazz was born in Marion.  The following are his own words, describing his early years in that city:

I was less than a year old when my family
moved to Marion, Ohio.  My father took a
job as a vice president and general manager–well, something important sounding–at Marion Steam Shovel.   I
guess they called it Marion Power Shovel Company by that time.  And so my first memories are of Marion.  My mother hired
an African-American woman named Lily
to be kind of a nanny to me.

I became her baby and she was very
protective.  I used to go over to her house
and spend days there with her and her
husband, the head waiter at the hotel.   
Marion, a city of about 30,000, was very successful industrially.  It had a big power
shovel plant and another plant that made
diesel engines and all kinds of road
equipment, kind of like the Caterpillar

Publishing and all sorts of things went on
there, so it was a very prosperous town. 
It had a big luxury hotel that had a nice restaurant and a big theater done in
the kind of Moorish style of the grand
palaces.  When I was a kid they had an
orchestra playing in the pit before and
after the movies.  My earliest recollection
of the Palace Theater was of the band in
the pit.

The Mulligan family saga also included stops in New Jersey, Chicago, and Kalamazoo, Michigan, where Gerry played clarinet in the Catholic school orchestra.  He once tried his hand at arranging the Richard Rodgers song "Lover", but his arrangement was seized by a nun who disliked the song’s title.  Gerry moved to California in 1952 where he assembled a piano-less quartet that played with particular restraint and subtlety.  He once called it “pipe and slipper jazz.” 

Soon Mulligan and his trumpeter, Chet Baker, were hailed as the inventors of a new kind of music:  people called it “west coast jazz.”  Mulligan won the Downbeat magazine reader’s poll bari sax category for more than two decades.  It may be reasonable to suspect that Gerry’s experiences in Marion somehow helped to shape this new jazz style.

Other jazz musicians with an Irish background that have made valuable contributions to the musical art form we call jazz include, but not limited to: Bing Crosby, Bunny Berigan, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey and Irish born jazz guitarist Louis Stewart.

It has been said that the Irish's contribution to jazz can also be found in the name itself, as it has been argued that the word jazz originated from the Irish.  You be the judge.  Read the article "How the Irish Invented Jazz" by Daniel Cassidy on the subject here:


Just like the music itself, the word jazz has been equally as controversial but, I must say that no matter how it arrived, we love our jazz music in all of its flavors, tones and textures.

Consider, therefore, some ways in which to celebrate St. Patrick’s day:  Tuesday, March 17.

  [1]  Wear something green;
  [2]  eat and/or drink something green;
  [3]  pretend to be a Notre Dame fan, if only for a
[4]  listen to some old recordings of tunes like
       “Walking Shoes” or “Rocker;”  and finally
  [5], if you happen to end up in Marion, Ohio, see if
        you can find any older folks there who can
        recall a young redhead by the name of Gerry.

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Article by: Jim Meredith