In the Hackensack studio, how old were you around then?
I was in college before the Hackensack building was completed. During the time I was in college, the Hackensack house was under construction. By the time that was finished I had graduated from college.
How many records do you think you accomplished in that studio?
Too many to count. Comparing the years that I spent there to the time spent in the studio here now, it was a relatively short time. There was a lot less time spent recording in Hackensack than here.
So do you think that would encompass two to four years?
A little more than that. Probably eight or nine years there.
Do you know how many sessions a week you were doing in the Hackensack house, when things were really humming along?
Well, there was a time I had an Optometric practice going, so I could really only record two days a week. If I were to look in my book at those days, I was routinely doing two sessions a day. So if I did nothing else, the maximum would be like four sessions a week I could do. But remember a session was about three hours.
And you were saying that you realized that you needed to record in the evening and you wanted more space.
For larger bands. That was a big pressure on me.
They wanted to get you with 22-, 24- piece bands?
Yes. Some of the later sessions were like ten-piece, and that was pushing it a little bit for Hackensack. I had gotten Gil Evans there, which I just wish I could have been able to do here. That was the pressure. And of course I had to formulate in my own mind what kind of studio I wanted to build. It was just the opposite of Hackensack. In Hackensack the control room was an incidental part of the building. It was primarily a residence. Now I was planning a building that was primarily a studio with a residence being incidental. It was just the opposite.
When you decided on the Englewood Cliffs house/recording studio, what was your thinking about the aesthetic and overall functionality of it?
That was a lucky series of events. I was also married at this time and I had my wife, Elva, and we were planning a life for the two of us. This would be our home. That was part of the equation, too. And of course, limited funds for what I could build as opposed to what I wanted to build. So my wife read an article in the New York Times about a Frank Lloyd Wright exhibition in New York City in one of the museums where they reproduced one of the Wright houses. We saw pictures in the paper and she went to meet the people who built it for them. There were a lot of Wrightian principles, his concept of what architecture should be, that fit in with our thinking. They seemed to define what we were looking for. Without going into many details, it was a masonry construction of the studio, the shape of the studio, and also the fact that if we were to adhere to his concepts without using him as a designer by going to one of his apprentices instead, I could actually afford to do it and complete it. Otherwise I might get drawings, which are works of art but I couldn't afford to build. So that was my thinking at that time and that's what I did. And there are some aspects of the design that I could point out to you.
Who was the man that designed the building?
David Henken. He's no longer alive and neither is Mr. Wright. By visiting places during this time period — recording studios, concert halls, places like that — I formulated what I wanted relative to the studio. My wife also agreed that the general appearance of the building should be represented by the works of Mr. Wright. So one of the basic concepts, for example, was if you have masonry wall and finish it in such a way that it has a pleasant appearance, you could use the same masonry for both an interior and exterior wall at the same time. You wouldn't have to finish it one way on the inside and then go ahead and finish, or process it another way on the outside. That's what you see here. It sounds so simple now, but try that on the local Board of Adjustment in 1960. [laughing]
It's so quiet in here and there's definitely a highway a few miles away.
There's a highway 200 feet from here, but the building is surrounded by many small trees. They're great at sound absorption. Airplanes are sometimes a problem, not too much, luckily. I didn't want to expand it to a big studio requiring a large staff. I really didn't want to do that. I wanted to stay small, which of course is inherently limiting to what I could do. I wanted to have one studio and one control room and also one operator. It was that way for many years — one engineer. But now I have an assistant and she's the only one I ever had associated with recording sessions. She's been with me since 1989. Her name is Maureen Sickler. She first worked with me on the CTI Dizzy Gillespie movie, Rhythm Stick. We work together now. She has survived many bass solos. [laughing] Her session notes are works of art, and I'm claiming for her the title of world's greatest tape op.
All these years you engineered and produced all the records single handedly?
Engineered, yes — produced, no. The labels did the producing. I never hired the musicians. I'm an engineer, not a producer. I've never hired a musician in my life. It's the record labels that do the producing. I also do the masters, by the way. That's another part of my work.
[What led you to] add mastering as a service?
Well, I long ago realized that in order to achieve what you and your clients want from the mixing, you should also do the mastering, otherwise things can get murky. I'm speaking only for myself now. This is what works for me.
Did you have to design some of the equipment for that? I think the only things available back then were disc cutters from Neumann.
Well, I can show you. There's also a lathe that's called a Scully lathe. I used the Scully all during the LP years for the mastering. I enjoyed cutting LP masters, but I was also glad to see it go. Preparing a master for the light beam recorder at the CD plant is a lot better than sending a lacquer master to a former swimming pool in the Bronx for electroplating, and then having someone drop a screwdriver on it.