9

Mosaic Records: Making Jazz History

Mosaic Records: Making Jazz History
Bob Kenselaar By

Sign in to view read count
No one is more astonished by the longevity of Mosaic Records than Michael Cuscuna, the veteran record producer and one-time disc jockey who founded the label together with Charlie Lourie, a former clarinetist who worked in both jazz and classical contexts before becoming an executive at CBS records, Blue Note, and elsewhere. Arguably the premier reissue label in jazz, Mosaic Records issued the first of its limited edition box set recordings in 1983. Originally available through mail order only—at a time when music fans bought records almost exclusively at brick-and-mortar retail shops—Mosaic is renowned for its definitive editions that bring together all the existing recordings of individual jazz artists on a specific label or within a set time frame, accompanied by detailed essays by leading jazz scholars. The label's catalog includes major historic recordings by such musical icons as Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Count Basie, and Nat "King" Cole, as well as sets that call attention to the recorded legacies of lesser-known artists.

The thirtieth anniversary is indeed a surprise. "It snuck up on us actually," says Cuscuna. "And, for my money, it's quite a miracle. We've been on a roller coaster ride from the day we started. We just started with a small amount of savings of mine, and it took us two or three years to draw a salary. We were living mostly on credit cards. Then when it started rolling, and it was great."

Leading up to the founding of Mosaic, Cuscuna worked as a disk jockey briefly early in his career in Philadelphia and New York, and by the 1970s he was a producer for Atlantic Records, working on new recordings by such artists as Dave Brubeck and the Art Ensemble Of Chicago. "I was actually always doing both new recordings and reissues. It was a juggling act. I started working with reissues when I had free time between recording projects. In those days at Atlantic, our offices were right down the hall from the recording studio. When I didn't have record dates to do, I called up tapes. I'd find out we had unreleased Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Warne Marsh, Chick Corea. I'd pull out stuff and think, this is great; maybe I can think of a way to put this out. And I did." When he left Atlantic, he did some freelance record producing for other labels, mostly new recordings. Ultimately, he also sought out work with Blue Note Records, aiming to unearth materials from its trove of unissued recordings.

Mosaic Records actually started as a side project for Cuscuna and Lourie, almost by accident. "Charlie and I had been friends since he was working at Blue Note around 1975. I convinced him to let me come in and go through the Blue Note vaults to look at its unissued material. We became best friends fairly quickly. We wanted to start a production company together. In 1981, Blue Note died completely. Horace Silver was the last artist on the label. He delivered his last album in the spring of '81. I was working on a series of previously unissued releases—two titles a month—and I put out my last album in the summer of '81."

Capital Records owned Blue Note by that time, and Cuscuna and Lourie approached the parent company about revitalizing the label. "We put together an eight-page proposal, and at the end of the last page, under 'catalog exploitation,' we said we'd also like to put definitive box sets, with booklets and complete annotations that would appeal to the collectors' market, although we didn't think it would be profitable. Of course, my inspiration had been the great multi-artist compilations with great booklets that Columbia did in the '60s: Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden, a set on Swing Street, and various others."

Shop

More Articles

Read Arto Lindsay: Watch Out Madames! Interviews Arto Lindsay: Watch Out Madames!
by Enrico Bettinello
Published: April 25, 2017
Read Fred Anderson: On the Run Interviews Fred Anderson: On the Run
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 23, 2017
Read Dave Holland: Consummate Bassist Interviews Dave Holland: Consummate Bassist
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 21, 2017
Read Walter Smith III: Jazz Explorer Interviews Walter Smith III: Jazz Explorer
by R.J. DeLuke
Published: April 19, 2017
Read Remembering Art Farmer Interviews Remembering Art Farmer
by Lazaro Vega
Published: April 19, 2017
Read "D'Vonne Lewis: It's About the Love" Interviews D'Vonne Lewis: It's About the Love
by Paul Rauch
Published: December 22, 2016
Read "Meet Kenny Garrett" Interviews Meet Kenny Garrett
by Craig Jolley
Published: October 9, 2016
Read "Simin Tander: Daring To Surrender" Interviews Simin Tander: Daring To Surrender
by Ian Patterson
Published: June 7, 2016
Read "Fábio Torres: The Making of Modern Brazilian Jazz" Interviews Fábio Torres: The Making of Modern Brazilian Jazz
by Samuel Quinto
Published: September 30, 2016
Read "Dominic Miller: From Sting to ECM" Interviews Dominic Miller: From Sting to ECM
by Luca Muchetti
Published: March 28, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM RECORDS | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!