Throwback Thursday: The Groundbreaking History of Hackensack Jazz

The state of New Jersey is famous for a lot of things – diners, beaches, funny accents, a certain brand of driving – and while all of them vary in truth or opinion, there is one claim to fame that is hard to dispute.

New Jersey’s prominence in the music scene over the decades is well documented; Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul Simon, Whitney Houston, and Les Paul are just a small portion of talent to come out of the state.

The city of Hackensack played a major role in adding to that musical legacy over the years, most prominently in jazz.

The famed Van Galder recording studio, found at 445 Sylvan Ave, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632

The famed Van Galder recording studio, found at 445 Sylvan Ave, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632

At the forefront was the Van Gelder Recording Studio, owned and run by Rudy Van Gelder. From 1953 to as recently as 2011, Van Gelder has recorded and mastered countless numbers of jazz albums in his home/studio hybrid.

Built specifically for that purpose, the home-studio featured favorable acoustics with its high pitched ceilings and wooden beams. Critic Ira Gitler described the studio giving off a vibe that “…one can get a feeling akin to religion.”

Rudy Van Gelder with his mixing table

Rudy Van Gelder with his mixing table

“There was no profession known as a recording engineer,” Van Gelder once said. Yet there was Van Gelder, an optometrist following a passion and a dream. Working with greats such Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and many others, Van Gelder built a legacy and helped to define what it is to record modern music.

“[Van Gelder] is, quite simply, the greatest recording engineer in jazz history” writes Steve Huey of All Music. “He was responsible for just about every session on the Blue Note label from 1953 to 1967 (among thousands of others), encompassing some of jazz’s most groundbreaking and enduring classics.”

Van Gelder wasn’t skilled just behind a mixing board – he could play with the best of them too. As we throw ourselves back this Thursday, let’s take the time to enjoy one of those classics born from the musically-rich history of Hackensack.