As a teenage jazz fan growing up in New Jersey, Rudy Van Gelder would head all the way into New York to hear the musicians he loved. By the time he was 20, they were coming to him instead. An optometrist by trade, Van Gelder spent evenings and weekends recording musicians in a studio in his parents’ living room in Hackensack. By the end of 1954, so many hits had been cut there—and so many record jacket photos taken—that jazz fans the world over were “familiar with the curtains in the Van Gelder living room,” as the historian Ira Gitler once wrote.
In 1959, Van Gelder quit his day job and moved himself and his equipment to a house in Englewood Cliffs, where he built a new studio. The space, designed by an acolyte of Frank Lloyd Wright’s, was “high-domed, wooden-beamed, brick-tiled,” spare, and modern, with 39-foot ceilings, Gitler wrote. More than one musician compared it to a chapel or cathedral—an impression underscored by the fact that so many greats came to record there, including John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, and Art Blakey. Coltrane’s recently discovered “lost” record, Both Directions at Once, was recorded at Van Gelder Studios on March 6, 1963.