Prefab Jazz

Jazz has a history of being recorded in intimate spaces. And I don't mean the small after-hours clubs or closet-cum-studios plenty of the greats suffered through. Take legendary Blue Note engineer Rudy Van Gelder, he recorded some of his masterpieces in his parents' Hackensack living room because of its particular acoustics. Leap forward a half century and trade New Jersey for the hills overlooking Pasadena and you'll find pianist Greg Reitan, whose most recent album Daybreak on Sunnyside Records was cut in the 1968 prefab house by architect J. Lamont Langworthy he's called home for 13 years. Langworthy's design is part of the Ford Motor Company-sponsored Concept Houses line, which eventually petered out after around 100 were built across California. I talked with Greg about life in a Langworthy and recording at home, and he offered us the chance to stream three tracks from Daybreak. Turns out the house sounds as groovy as it looks. Enjoy the music and the architecture.
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How did you determine that you'd record in your house?

During rehearsals I had always noticed that the acoustics were good. I also have an excellent six-foot Steinway grand piano there. I recorded some short television cues in the house. The decision to record an album evolved organically out of our experience with these sessions.

Do you think Langworthy had acoustics in mind when he designed the space?

He's definitely a jazz fan, but I'm pretty sure he did not think of the acoustics in his original design.  His interest was more architectural. I think he was primarily concerned with designing good homes for the largest number of people possible.


Greg Reitan - Daybreak by user5465176

What about the space gives it the quality that you like in your recordings?

The redwood has a particular warmth that definitely comes through on tape. Also because we're working here, the atmosphere is very relaxed. As a result, the trio has the space and time to be creative. Each album has been recorded direct to 2-track Stereo and since there is no mixing involved the whole thing goes directly to the mastering engineer (Mark Wilder at Sony Studios in New York City). He puts on a few finishing touches but the overall process is fairly straightforward.

This old brochure for the Concept Houses describes their factory construction, cost of transportation (70 cents per mile per module), and argues in favor of doing away with all that messy site construction of stick-built houses.

Do you feel like you're part of a particular jazz lineage recording in a residential setting?

To some extent. Rudy Van Gelder and Blue Note is one example. But the technology has become more portable in the last decade and with the right equipment and an ear for balancing the instruments, more home-based recording is possible.



Greg Reitan - Chelsea Bridge by user5465176

Have you recorded anyone else in the place?

No. It's primarily my own work space for composing, practicing and recording.

Daybreak is Greg Reitan's third album recorded in his house. It came out on September 13th. Photo by Kelly Barrie.

How long does a typical recording session take? How many did you have?

The albums often develop over a few months. Typically, during recording, the trio will meet once a week for a two-hour window. We get anywhere from two to three tunes finished in that time.


Greg Reitan - Lament by user5465176

Do you plan to keep recording in your house?


Between practicing, recording, and living there, don't you get a bit stir crazy?

It's a pretty small space in terms of square footage, but because of the open concept and full windows, it feels really spacious. We're lucky, too, that the house is up on a hill with very few other houses nearby—sometimes it feels like you're out in the country, but all of L.A. is very close. Between performing, touring and working in the L.A. studios on film and television projects, there's a lot going on.


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