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Michael Cuscuna of Mosaic Records

By Published: February 4, 2010

AAJ: And then that led to the birth of Mosaic?

MC: Yes, we costed it out and investigated everything and then that's how we started Mosaic. This was in 1982, but the records didn't come out until June of '83. It took that long to set up the business and get all the leases in order for licensing the first sets. Our first three releases were things that I had been researching in the Blue Note vaults- the Monk Blue Note, Gerry Mulligan and the Pacific Jazz stuff with Chet Baker, and the Albert Ammons/Meade Lux Lewis early Blue Notes. We struggled along working out of Charlie's apartment with no salary for about a year or so and gradually we were able to take a salary and make a go of it.

AAJ: Tell us about your current location and staffing.

MC: We moved out of Charlie's house in 1989 to the location where we are now (Stamford, Connecticut), which is a combination of an office and warehouse. At that point, we had two employees and now we are up to seven. We only grew when we needed to because it's not a business flowing in money.

AAJ: Obviously, you have established a client base that responds well to your product. What kind of people are your typical customers?

MC: We've got a lot of people that have been with us since the beginning and they order everything that comes out automatically. There are even a couple of people who'll order things in both configurations [vinyl and CD], if we put it out in both. We also have a faithful following, in one genre or another, that will buy everything that is mainstream or trad or hard bop or avant-garde. We wanted to diversify from the beginning. From having boogie-woogie and West Coast and hard bop we were able to get a real spread and maintain that.

AAJ: You have also been able to bring new light to neglected artists and in turn the momentum has lead Blue Note proper to release some great obscurities.

MC: Yeah, when we put out the Herbie Nichols, people had to gradually discover that stuff and I was just glad to have it out and I knew that when the lease ran out we'd be out of it and that would be that. But there was a real ground swell of demand for that stuff, we got request after request, and finally [Blue Note executives] Tom Evered and Bruce Lundvall said they'd try it on Blue Note. I never ever thought that stuff would have a second life and it has and it's stayed in print and I'm really happy about that. And a lot of the Tina Brooks are coming out separately.

AAJ: Please explain Mosaic's concept of the "limited edition."

MC: We wanted to make limited editions because our licenses were usually limited to three years. We wanted to let people know that in three to five years these things aren't going to be around and whatever is on their shopping list we wanted to get our stuff at the top of their list. So that's how we introduced the limited edition idea, which is now borrowed by Blue Note's Connoisseur series and Verve borrowed it for their Elite series. But, I tell people that in reality every jazz record is a limited edition because it will eventually go out-of-print.

AAJ: As your track record has shown, you do very well with your Blue Note compilations, but what kind of response have you had to the more traditional sets you've been working on lately?

MC: Not as well as the Blue Notes, but we still do pretty well. In fact, the great response to the Kid Ory set has surprised us.

AAJ: You have been involved for several years now in the repackaging of Miles Davis' great legacy of recordings on Columbia, issuing the vinyl versions of these boxed sets on Mosaic. Can you tell us about the experience of working with that classic material?

MC: That stuff was such a joy to work with; it was great. I tell you what, you go into the vaults and it never ceases to amaze me some of the things that happen over time. Like the Milestones album, a very important album; in '62 they put out an electronically re-channeled stereo version and by '67 all you could buy was the electronically re-channeled stereo. Then, of course, years later it came out in mono on CD. In the meantime, all these years, there have been three-track tapes of the whole album sitting there. They could have made a real beautiful sounding stereo at any point. I guess nobody looked for them; I don't know. Why it's a beautifully recorded date and Philly Joe is just so amazing on that.

AAJ: Can you share with us any news about upcoming Mosaic sets?

MC: Well, we just put out a Horace Parlan Blue Note set and a Woody Herman Capitol set. This month we'll also have out the Complete Pacific Jazz Recordings of Gerald Wilson. It's one of those things where I had put out a couple single album reissues by Wilson and they didn't do well so I realized that the only way I'm going to get this stuff out is by doing it as a Mosaic. We also have an interesting thing that someone suggested to us. George Avakian, in the 10-inch LP days, had done a series of albums for Columbia called Piano Moods and it had a lot of middle-of-the-road piano players and cocktail piano players, but it also had Errol Garner, Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Jess Stacy, and Joe Bushkin. So we've taken all the jazz Piano Moods 10-inch LP's and put them into a boxed set and added a couple of interesting obscure items, like the live Art Tatum, Ralph Sutton Plays Fats Waller, a Joe Sullivan album of previously unrecorded Fats Waller tunes, and Ahmad Jamal's first sessions. So that's like a kind of "swing" to "modern" piano boxed set.

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