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Michael Cuscuna: 1948-2024


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Jazz is still, for me, the greatest music ever—it just ate its way into my soul, and it became a part of every fabric of my body…
—Michael Cuscuna
Michael Cuscuna, a titan in the world of jazz, passed away on April 20, 2024, leaving behind a legacy that will resonate for generations.

Michael is survived by his wife Lisa, his children, Max and his wife Jackie, and Lauren, and two grandchildren, Nicolas and Penelope Cuscuna. His passing leaves a void in the hearts of all who knew him. May he rest in peace, and forever be remembered as he will be deeply missed.

Throughout his career, Michael possessed a curiosity for unearthing unissued jazz recordings, delving into the vaults of record labels looking for hidden gems. In 1975 his search led him to the great Blue Note vaults—unlocking a treasure of unissued material by the great jazz legends.

This experience would later be the impetus for co-founding Mosaic Records Inc, a boutique label specializing in complete sets of some of the most influential jazz artists. Mosaic Records, co-founded with Charles Lourie, produced hundreds of editions including works by Thelonious Monk, Sidney Bechet, Hank Mobley, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, Tina Brooks, The Nat King Cole Trio and Miles Davis.

Michael recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Downbeat and here is an excerpt of one of Michael’s last interviews this past January.

Born in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1948, Cuscuna first got into music at the age of 9 or 10. “It was contemporary R&B on the radio at first,” he recalled recently. “But I played drums on a little starter kit and got into drum records like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich on Verve, then Max Roach and Art Blakey. When I started to hear the music around the drums, that’s when I got completely hooked. I went through Benny Goodman, Dave Brubeck and the MJQ, until I caught up to what was going on around me around 1960.

“By age 14, I was going to Birdland, which had a peanut gallery. That’s when I heard Blakey and the Messengers, the Coltrane Quartet and Miles. They became my passion and still are. It’s the stuff that gets to you between about 12 and 25 that stays with you for life. You never absorb music in quite the same way after that.”

Many years ago, Woody Shaw said of Cuscuna, “No matter what you produce or do in your life, the thing you’ll be remembered for is rescuing all that Blue Note material.”

“Looking back all these years,” Cuscuna says today, “I’m content with that.”

Fred Pustay

I’ve known Michael for 25+ years since having the privilege of joining Mosaic Records. While many are aware of the legacy of riches he has catalogued for one of the greatest art forms, all of us who work or have worked at Mosaic also know him as a hard worker, generous and dedicated to his family.

Michael possessed an energetic spirit and drive that was infectious. When I look at the list of 200 sets for Mosaic plus all the Blue Note, Impulse and other recordings that Michael was instrumental in bringing to the public, it’s clear his passion for music drove his life-long ambitions. He was proud of his achievements while at the same time being very appreciative and grateful that he was working with many of the greatest jazz musicians and their body of work.

It's very hard for me to convey my feelings about someone I worked closely with every day, had many lunches with and was treated to innumerable special musical memories. I’ll miss a partner, a lunch-mate, and a special friend.

Scott Wenzel

I can’t think of any better way to describe Michael than as my mentor. His guidance was immeasurable—filled with direction, leadership, knowledge, understanding, and of course, toss in some of that incredibly sarcastic wit and sense of humor. Michael knew, like his partner and close friend Charlie Lourie, how to run the business of a jazz re-issue label when there were few and far between such companies.

He also was a true family man. I saw and heard the love he unconditionally gave to his family. It was not uncommon to hear a heartfelt “I love you” at the end of a conversation to his wife Lisa, or to see and hear the love and dedication to his children, and then, in the past few years, the stories of his grandchildren who gave him immeasurable pleasure.

Michael embraced my passion for jazz record collecting and after about a dozen years of managing the Mosaic warehouse he and Charlie gave me a job of producer, expanding the Mosaic catalog to include more pre-tape era boxed sets. I am ever in debt to the both of them.

And there are so many other Mosaic journeys in the past 36 years that I could impart to you, as I’m sure there are many others who knew him even better than I that could spin countless tales of this unique man. Seek them out. Keep Michael in your heart and on your turntables, CD players or however else you listen to the music. And be grateful and thankful he was here on this planet.
Funeral arrangements are in process and will be held at the Bozak Funeral Home bosakfuneralhome.com in Stamford, CT. Please check their site at end of day Monday when information should be available. There will also be a web page on their site where you can post on their tribute wall.

Michael Cuscuna / Mosaic Records Articles

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