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On March 2, 1952, several months after the Mooney session that got Van Gelder played on the radio for the first time, Gus Statiras, also known by his DJ name Gus Grant, assembled a band led by baritone saxophonist Gil Melle to record at Van Gelder’s. The sides produced on this date were initially released in the 78 R.P.M. format on Statiras’ Triumph label (Myers, 2012), and the recording is an early example of Van Gelder’s capabilities when it came to recording small jazz combos.

Gil Melle, “Mars” | Recorded March 2, 1952 in Hackensack

Not long after the Triumph session, Melle was looking for a record deal. When the opportunity arose, he played his record for Alfred Lion, co-founder of Blue Note Records and producer of the label’s sessions. Lion loved what he heard and agreed to arrange a recording date for Melle. For several years Lion had been recording at a studio operated by WOR radio station on Broadway in Manhattan. Lion, who had been using engineer Doug Hawkins exclusively, played the record Melle cut at Van Gelder’s for Hawkins, hoping Hawkins would agree to try to get the same sound Van Gelder got for Melle. Perhaps Hawkins felt an understandable sense of pride when he told Lion he was “gonna have to go to the guy who made it” if he wanted that sound (Cuscuna, 2004).

So on January 31, 1953, Alfred Lion and Blue Note Records recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s home for the first time. Lion also arranged to buy the rights to the Melle Triumph recording (Sickler et al., 2011) and released the music from both sessions as Blue Note catalog number 5020 in March 1953 (Cohen, 2010). Lion wasn’t instantly sold on the Hackensack experience, however. In 1953 Blue Note proceeded to record six times at Hackensack but also six times at WOR. Eventually though, on November 23, 1953, Blue Note recorded with Hawkins at WOR for the last time and began using Van Gelder exclusively.

What occurred over the next six years was nothing short of legendary. In addition to Blue Note and probably as a consequence of working with them, Van Gelder landed regular work with other popular jazz labels including Prestige and Savoy. This meant opening the doors of his parents’ home to dozens of the Big Apple’s jazz heavyweights, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Max Roach, Milt Jackson, Bud Powell, and Jimmy Smith. The musicians adored the intimate, casual atmosphere of Van Gelder’s home studio, and they would keep coming back throughout the 1950s.

Main photo: Blue Note founders Alfred Lion (left) and Francis Wolff

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