Mosaic Records: Making Jazz History
Cuscuna's original cost models actually turned out to be a bit optimistic, but this didn't really matter. "The way I had charted it out, I figured the Monk set with a limited edition of 5,000 copies would sell out in 18 months. Of course, it actually took about seven years. But that notwithstanding, we set out on the right course anyway, and we're just proud of the legacy that we created."
There have been bumps in the road along the way. "We had a nice ascent for a while, and then other things came up. One of the weirdest things was when Columbia put out the complete recordings of [blues guitarist] Robert Johnson. It was only two CDs, but they packaged it in a box with a booklet, and it started to sell in unprecedented numbers. In the first year it was like 150,000, and it ended up reaching 300,000. Then the word spread around the industry: box sets sell." This had a distinct downside for Mosaic. "For the next five years we had a hard time getting labels to license stuff to us. Someone in the licensing department would say, 'oh, a box set? Well, we might want to do that ourselves.' Then when the retail business started to tank, suddenly we were able to get stuff again. So, it's a roller coaster. You just ride it. You just brace yourself and hope for the best."
Outstanding examples from the Mosaic catalog come to mind easily for Cuscuna. "There are two categories of sets that are milestones in my mind. One is a very small category of artists like Tina Brooks and Herbie Nichols. By approaching their work with the box-set treatmentwith in-depth research and a lot of unissued materialwe were able to call an incredible amount of attention to two major artists that had earlier been marginal in terms of fame and recognition. One thing I learned when I started doing reissues is that, for the most part, you can't rewrite history. An album will only do as well proportionally as it did when it was originally released. You can put out Lee Morgan's Sidewinder, and it'll sell like crazy. Put out Lee Morgan's Search for the New Land, and it'll sell OK although it'll get great reviews. But with Tina Brooks and Herbie Nichols, we were able to rewrite history and make them more important. It was especially gratifying with Herbie Nichols. We were able to get so much unissued stuff out, and a lot of musicianslike Roswell Rudd, Geri Allen, Ben Allison, and Frank Kimbroughstarted recording a lot of this newly discovered material and really getting him in circulation. It was really gratifying to work with the past and to have an effect upon the present musically and to have an effect on the historical positioning of those artists. That for me that is the most meaningful part of Mosaic."