Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Rudy van Gelder - The Ben Sidran Interview - Part 1

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The source for Ben’s interview with the legendary recording engineer, Rudy van gelder, is Talking Jazz: 43 Jazz Conversions which are drawn from interviews that took place from 1984-1990 on Ben’s National Public Radio series entitled Sidran on Record.

In addition to the original book form, which is still in print, these talks are also available in a Kindle Edition from Amazon and in an expanded audio CD edition which is made up of the actual radio broadcasts.

Rudy Van Gelder
(December, 1985)

“Recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder never gives interviews. He agreed to talk with me only after I assured him that if he didn't like the way it went, he could keep the tape. Perhaps because he's spent his entire life on the other side of the microphone, he knows all too well the historical importance of pushing the record button. Rudy is a legend in the recording world, not only because of the thousands of classic jazz sessions he's captured on tape, particularly the early Blue Note records, but also because he's a man who, many fans believe, helped invent the sound of contemporary jazz. His recordings from the early '50s still sound modem today. Rudy is not unaware of his position in the jazz pantheon, and actively guards his "secrets." He will not talk about the kinds of microphones he uses or where he places them, or anything even vaguely related to the technical process of recording music. For many of today's young jazz musicians, walking into his studio is a bit like arriving at the inner chamber of the great pyramid (where the mysteries of the past have unfolded); for many older musicians, it's like coming home.”

Ben: We're talking in the control room of your recording studio here in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. I've done interviews from all over, hotel rooms, musicians' apartments, backstage dressing rooms and, of course, recording studios. But I think this is the first one I've done from the control room of the studio.

Rudy: By the way, I'm, I'm on the wrong side of this microphone. This is very strange for me. I just feel very uncomfortable. I'd rather be on the opposite side. This is the first time I've ever done anything like this, so it's a very strange feeling.

Ben: When did you discover that you wanted to be on the "other side" of the microphone? Was there a particular moment when you realized you wanted to be a recording engineer?

Rudy: A particular moment? No, not really. But I remember certain times, yes, that I felt that's what I wanted to do. You know, for a long time I was in another profession.

Ben: You were an optometrist?

Rudy: That's right. That's right. And during the time I was in school studying, occasionally we would visit radio stations, or places other than the environment that I was studying, and I really felt that I wanted to be in that other situation. I really strongly felt that. Maybe because it was in Philadelphia. Maybe something about Philadelphia that makes you feel you're in the wrong place. [Laughs.]

Ben: As it says on W.C. Fields' tombstone, "I'd rather be here than in Philadelphia," right? But it's hard for us to realize, in these days when every twelve- or thirteen-year-old child has more technology strapped on their body than the whole city of Philadelphia had back in the '40s, but records, up through the '50s, were recorded in radio studios. They didn't have recording studios as we do today.

Rudy: That's right. There was actually no record industry as such. It was an off-shoot, from an engineering standpoint, of the radio stations. And the engineers usually worked with companies who were associated in some way with radio. There were a few exceptions to that, but there was no record industry as an independent industry, the way it is today. No, it was totally different. The equipment was different, everything was different.

Ben: And, initially, you were a hobbyist?

Rudy: Yes, that's right. I was a radio ham originally. Also an amateur musician, of course, and those two things sort of came together, and that's how it happened.

Ben: That's probably a real important point, the fact that you weren't coming just from a musical side, or the ham radio side, but you brought the two together.

Rudy: It was, yes, yes. It was. I always felt it was a strange combination, just a strange combination of ways to look at music. On the technical side, at that time, you had to build all your own equipment. There was nothing available that you could go out and buy. So, you had to build amplifiers, recording consoles. There was no manufacturer of consoles. That thing didn't exist. You had to make your own. See, the big companies were doing that, but they had their own staff of engineering people and maintenance people who would do that. That's why there was only two or three companies doing it. And not for sale.

Ben: RCA or...

Rudy: That's right. You'd see a conglomeration of knobs and meters and you'd know that was put together by RCA engineers.

Ben: Did you go into those studios when you were very young?

Rudy: Yeah. Occasionally I'd visit, yeah. Even I'd visit a session now and then.

Ben: Did you have a sense that there was another way to do it, when you went in there? I mean, was there a feeling that maybe there was a more musical way to do it?

Rudy: Not at that time. I would now. But not then. But at that time, it was a curiosity as to how they were doing what they were doing. And that's why I would seek out those people and places.

Ben: And, when you were in Philadelphia, were you out recording your musician friends, as a hobby?

Rudy: Oh, absolutely. Like we'd have sessions over the house. People would come and…

Ben: What would you record them on?

Rudy: Disc. You know, a little 10-inch, 12-inch turntable, 78 rpm, then 33, with a big transcription turntable. That was before the days of tape. And it was direct to disc. Definitely.

Ben: And, you were building your own amplifiers at that point?

Rudy: Yes, that's what I meant before. In order to do that, you had to build everything yourself. That's right.

Ben: And you practiced as an optometrist?

Rudy: Um hm. Thirteen years I did that. It was in another town near here, Hackensack. About five minutes, ten minutes from here...

Ben: This was in the '40s?

Rudy: Very late, very late '40s. Yes. Late '40s. '48, '49, '50. Of course during that time, I was recording as a hobby in my parents home. And I was doing both. I was practicing the optometry, and then in my spare time, recording. Actually it was during that period that I was doing all those early Blue Note things, and Prestige, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Miles. And all those people were coming over, and I was recording them. But at the same time, I had the practice going. 'Course then, the whole time thing reversed, after I spent more time doing the recording than I did the other.

Ben: Recording them in your house?

Rudy: In my parent's house. Yes. Right.

Ben: In your parent's house. I'm sure thousands of people out there, who hold those old Blue Note records in their hands and turn them over, are struck, as I was, by the photos. You'll see a picture of Horace Silver at the piano, and there's this lamp behind him. And then on another album, you'll see a picture of Bud Powell at the piano, and the same lamp is behind him. And there's Monk. And the same lamp. Wait a minute, What's going on here? This same lamp. And you really get a sense that it was all being recorded in somebody's living room.

Rudy: It was. That's right. Of course, the house was built, they built that, It was my father and mother, my parents, built that at the time, as their home. But, they were aware of my interest in the sound, and we had a little control room built right off the living room. This little glass window, overlooking the living room, with a small control room. And it's nice...

Ben: And there was a place in the living room where you'd always put the drum kit, and ...

Rudy: Most of it. Yeah. There was nothing rigid about it. But I remember this one place where I sent Kenny Clarke. Kenny Clarke would always go in that corner. We used to call it "Klook's Corner." That's where he would always set up the drums.

Ben: There's a song called "Klook's Corner."

Rudy: That's right. That's how it came about. Right.

Ben: Because he liked it there.

Rudy: That's right. We got a good sound. It was a good size room, actually. Not huge, but acoustically it sounded nice. Had a nice-sounding room.

Ben: Did you design the room to be a recording studio?

Rudy: No, not then. No. It was, that was within the context of the house. It was a one-floor house. But it was a nice high ceiling in the living room, and had little hallways and little nooks and crannies going off. It was really nice. Nice place to record. I made some good records there.

Ben: You made some wonderful records there. Did you practice optometry in the building as well, or were you coming back...

Rudy: No, No. Never. I had an office, a separate office.

Ben: So you'd come back after a day of...

Rudy:... of doing whatever I was doing and do a session. That's right. Or on Wednesday, when I had off, I would record for Prestige or Savoy, or Blue Note, during the day.

Ben: So fairly early on, you were going four and five days a week for Blue Note Records.

Rudy: Yes. It got busy very quickly.

Ben: When I talk to musicians who were involved in these early recordings, Horace Silver, for example, they say to me, "Well, if you want to know about the Blue Note sound, you've got to talk to Rudy Van Gelder. He'll tell you about the Blue Note sound." But I know from talking to you in the past, you'll tell me that I should talk to Alfred Lyon. That as the owner of the company and the producer of those sessions, what he did was as important as what you were doing.

Rudy: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think you can't separate. If you're talking about the Blue Note sound, you can't separate what I did from what he did. He was really the motivation for creating that, the opportunity to make that kind of a record. Yes. Not only that, he was the first to do it also.

Ben: Is there some way you can tell me why your Blue Note records didn't sound like anybody else's records? Why did your records sound different?

Rudy: Well, it's not easy to really describe it in words. I have complicated feelings about it. First of all, I really don't wanna be too specific, because I'm still at this. You know, I'm still doing it. And I had certain ideas. But really, it's a question of Alfred presenting me with a problem, and my solution to the problem.

Ben: How was the problem presented?

To be continued in Part 2.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Little Johnny Rivero - "Music In Me"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“With one foot rooted in his native Puerto Rico and the other firmly planted New York City's "El Barrio," it is only fitting that Little Johnny Rivero's second effort as a leader titled, Music in Me, delivers its Latin Jazz groove with underpinnings of traditional Afro-Cuban percussion and rhythms.

From the relentless, driving bata voicing in Alambique, to the haunting background chants that color, Africa My Land, to the staccato horn runs peppered throughout the title track, "Music in Me" delivers a unified theme of Latin Jazz, improvisation, and color.

"Ever since I was a young boy, I listened to a wide range of music," says Rivero, "including Tito Puente, Machito, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Tony Bennett, all of which my father had in his record collection. Also, there were always rumba jams. Inside of me is a Latin Jazz Rumba."

Music in Me features trumpeter Brian Lynch, alto saxophonist Louis Fouché, pianist Zaccai Curtis and bass player Luques Curtis. Special guests include trombonist Conrad Herwig, trumpeter Jonathan Powell, violinist Alfredo de la Fé, percussionists Anthony Carrillo and Luisito Quintero, vocalists Manny Mieles and Edwin Ramos and Giovanni Almonte (spoken word).”
- Jim Eigo, Jazz Promo Services, Press Release

Every Jazz drummer is a Latin Jazz drummer at heart. I mean what’s not to like with lots of stuff to bang, crash, strike, scratch, smack, slap, tap and whack using a variety of complementary and/or contrasting rhythms – a drummer’s delight, es verdad?

When I was first learning to play drums as a young man in Southern California in the late 1950’s, I was fortunate to play in a series of rehearsal bands. These were usually led by aspiring or, in some cases, established composer-arrangers who wanted an available vehicle in which to hear their “charts” [musician-speak for arrangements].

One of these aggregations was headed-up by a Hispanic trombonist from East Los Angeles who one day brought along to a rehearsal a transcription of Johnny Richards’ arrangement of Los Suertos de los Tontos [“Fortune of Fools”] that he had taken note-for-note from the Stan Kenton recording – Cuban Fire! [Capitol CDP 7 96260 2]. Where there is a will there’s a way?

He also brought with him two of his friends who were adept Latin percussion players.

That was it for me; I was hooked then, and have been ever since, on the power, the majesty and the excitement of Latin Jazz. What a wild ride!

While playing the 6/8 triplet figure on the bell of the cymbal that forms the underlying beat of the Los Suertos de los Tontos, I was pushed into a state of total elation by the incessant driving beat of the Latin percussionists who alternated between bongos and conga drums, timbales, cow bells, clave and various types of shakers throughout the 4 minutes or so of the tune.

Prior to that time, I had heard small group versions of Latin Jazz as played by quintets led by pianist George Shearing and vibist Cal Tjader, respectively.

But that had not prepared me for what happens with this music once trumpets, trombones and saxophones are added to the mix.

Seeing that my enthusiasm for the music was almost palpable, the Latin percussionists invited me to come by and listen to the ten-piece group that they performed with on a regular basis at a club called Virginia’s in the Macarthur Park region of Los Angeles.

Needless to say, I drove down to the club that evening and was an almost constant presence there for about 6 months during which they taught me everything about the right way to play what they referred to as “Afro-Cuban rhythms.”

Dancing to the rumba and the mambo were very popular in the 1950s and most major cities had night clubs that catered to this clientele featuring music by what today would be called salsa bands.

During the early days of my Latin Jazz musical quest, I’d come home from Virginia’s most nights with my head reeling from listening to the punctuating brass instruments [the drums were set on a riser just below the trumpets and trombones] and my hands would be bleeding until I had built up the necessary callous for playing the conga drums.

I didn’t care; I was a young man in what I thought then was “Drummer’s Heaven.”

In this environment, I soon learned, however, that playing Latin Jazz or Afro-Cuban rhythms was a lot more involved than hitting, banging, slapping, crashing or whacking everything in sight.

There were conventions or rhythmic rules and these had to be unwaveringly adhered to or else the back of my hands would be bleeding, too, from the whaps they received from the timbales sticks [actually small, wooden dowels which are not tipped like regular drum sticks] of my unyielding teachers.

“Hey, man, play it right; you’re screwing the rest of us up!”

For while it may sound like a lot of clap trap to the uninformed ear, the Latin rhythm section is actually a well-oiled machine with everything in its place.  

When done correctly, the rhythms, counter-rhythms and accents played in combination by the conga and bongo drums, timbales and a variety of hand-held percussion instruments create a fluid, rippling foundation over which the melody glides.

While jazz rhythms are swung, most Latin jazz tunes have a straight eighth note feel. Latin jazz rarely employs a backbeat, using a form of the clave instead. 

Most jazz rhythms emphasize beats two and four. Latin jazz tunes rely more on various clave rhythms, again depending on regional style.

Since the underlying “feel” of Latin or Afro-Cuban Jazz relates to the clave, perhaps a word at this point as to its meaning, role and its relationship with the instruments, compositions and arrangements

Clave in its original form is a Spanish word and its musical usage was developed in the western part of Cuba, particularly the cities of Matanzas and Havana. However, the origins of the rhythm can be traced to Africa, particularly the West African music of modern-day Ghana and Nigeria. There are also rhythms resembling the clave found in parts of the Middle East.

There are three types of clave, and without going into a lot of detail, the most common type of clave rhythm in Latin Jazz is the son clave, named after the Cuban musical style of the same name.

The choice of the form of the clave rhythm is guided by the melody, which in turn directs all other instruments and arrangements.

As far as the type of clave rhythm used, generally son clave is used with dance styles while rumba and afro are associated with folkloric rhythms.

To re-emphasize a point before moving on, while allowing for some embellishment, these clave rhythmic patterns must be strictly adhered to by the percussionists in the playing of Latin Jazz to keep the music controlled and grounded, while at the same time, flowing.

To the uninitiated, Latin Jazz rhythm sections might sound more like controlled chaos, but when it all comes together properly it is a thing of beauty, especially as one’s ear becomes more informed.

What I look for in a Latin Jazz group is its adherence to the authenticity of these rhythmic conventions as a platform for a music that is played with passionate intensity and melodic intrigue.

In a word - EXCITEMENT!

Imagine my delight, then, when a copy of conguero Little Johnny Rivero’s latest CD - MUSIC IN ME - made an appearance at the editorial offices of JazzProfiles.

It hasn’t been off the CD changer since its arrival because the recording is alive with all the good qualities of Latin Jazz - accurate representations of its rhythmic styles, intriguing melodies, some with dips and turns that bring back memories of Horace Silver and Elmo Hope, all played by a group of first-rate soloists.

A long-time associate of the Latin Jazz master, Eddie Palmieri, Little Johnny Rivero has assembled a masterful group of musicians who are steeped in the ethos of Latin Jazz and the band just sparkles on the nine tracks that make up this recording.

Here’s what Stephan Nigohosian had to say aboutLittle Johnny Rivero’s background in this excerpt from the insert notes to the recording.

“Having performed on nearly 100 recordings to date, Little Johnny's credits include such notable artists as La Sonora Poncefia, Eddie Palmieri, Bebo Valdes, Charlie Palmieri, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Paquito D'Rivera, Brian Lynch, and Conrad Herwig. He has collaborated with such world-renowned percussionists as Changuito, Giovanni Hidalgo, Carlos "Patato" Valdes and Angel "Cachete" Maldonado as well as legendary drummers Joe Chambers and Ralph Peterson Jr.”

And here are Little Johnny Rivero’s comments about the nine tracks that make up Music in Me:

Mr.  LP: This song is dedicated to [L.P. Founder] Martin Cohen, who has been a dear friend, father figure and an inspiration throughout my life. Without him, I would not be the musician or person that I am today. He IS "Mr. LP". Conrad Herwig's trombone solo takes this song to the next level.

Music In Me: Ever since I was a young boy, I listened to a wide range of music, including Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Machito, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Tony Bennett...all of which my father had in his record collection. Across the street, there were always rumba jams; hence the name "Music In Me". Inside of me is a Latin Jazz Rumba.

Let's Do It Again: I first played this song with Zaccai and Luques Curtis at my friend Martin Cohen's house several years ago. When I told Zaccai how much I liked the tune, he literally said, "Let's do it again!" Zaccai's piano solo conveys the spontaneity of this particular take and Ludwig Afonso does a great job of closing the song with his amazing virtuosity.

Little Giants: This is what I describe as a Latin Jazz Mambo. It's a fast, energetic tune, featuring a killer solo on bongos by Anthony Carillo and Jonathan Powell on trumpet, adding movement and passion to the song. The song's title was inspired by Andy Guzman [the song's arranger], who once told me, "You're not little,'re a GIANT!"

Palmieri, Much Respect: Eddie Palmieri is a genius. Learning from him was an experience that helped shape me, to become the musician that I am today. He respects all musicians and expects the most from us, which we are pleased to deliver. This song is a smooth cha-cha-cha that makes me think of being on a smooth trip with Eddie. I play timbales on this song, and, coincidentally, Eddie played timbales at a young age before he played piano.

Africa My Land: To me, all drumming has its origins in Africa. As a percussionist, I felt compelled to pay tribute to these roots, so I played a variety of percussion on the track, including udu drums and talking drums. The chants by Manny Mieles' and myself are meant to convey the heart and soul of Africa. Giovanni Almonte contributes his poetry to the song,elevating the emphasis on the debt our music is owed to the motherland.

Bombazul: This tune features the original barril de bombas. Once you hear this song, you'll feel like you're looking at the simple beauty of a clear, blue sky. Louis Fouche's sax adds just the right amount of color to the feel of this tune.

Afro-Rykan Thoughts: This track brings in the funkl I wanted something different and this is it. You don't usually hear percussion solos in this type of music, but it works really well here. We had a blast recording it, it has a jam band vibe to it. When Brian Lynch and Louis Fouche play their solos, they take it to the moon!

Alambique: In Isla Verde, San Juan, Puerto Rico, there's a beach called Alambique, where all of the rumberos would hang out and jam back in the 80's. That beach holds a special place in my heart; and the movement of this tune reminds me of the sun, sand and camaraderie we all had. Luisito Quintero and Alfredo de la Fe take amazing solos on this song.

The following videos will give you “the flavor” of what’s on offer in Music In Me. The first features images related to Little Johnny Rivero and to the Puerto Rican barrel drum and is set to Bombazul.

And Johnny talks so eloquently about the relationship of Africa to his music and his drumming that the second video is set to images of the artwork of the late Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu [1921-1994] and features the music from the Afro-Rykan Thoughts track.

If you dig Latin Jazz, then Music in Me is the music in you.


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