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Michael Cuscuna: The Master of Mosaic

Gary Vercelli / CapRadio Music

Charlie Lourie & Michael Cuscuna, founders of Mosaic Records, at Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival, Japan 1987.

Gary Vercelli / CapRadio Music

In 1989, I was working on the liner notes for Lou Rawls’s Blue Note album At Last. After speaking with Rawls, I called the album’s producer, Michael Cuscuna, to get some recording credits and details.

I had heard from trusted sources that Cuscuna has an encyclopedic knowledge of the jazz idiom, as well as great historical perspective. As we spoke on the phone, I marveled at his command of jazz facts and figures, as he freely associated relevant data without the benefit of notes. I hung up the phone grateful for the information he had provided,  but also thankful that a man with such a bright mind had chosen to devote his life to producing some of the most important albums of our time and  also chosen to oversee the issue of some very important material from the music’s past.

Michael Cuscuna is one of the leading producers in jazz. He has produced albums for Atlantic, Blue Note, Muse, Elektra, Novus, and many other labels. He has also mined the vaults of some of the deepest catalogues in music, unearthing important recordings and overseeing the reissue of significant source material.

In the early eighties, Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie launched Mosaic Records, a mail order only label dedicated to issuing limited edition box sets of some of the music’s major improvisers. Mosaic has since released over 200 box sets, including seminal work by Nat Cole, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. They have also presented the work of lesser known masters, such as pianist Herbie Nichols and saxophonist Tina Brooks.  Check out the Mosaic catalogue at http://www.mosaicrecords.com/

“My main motivation is really not reissues, it’s focusing on unissued material,” Cuscuna told Jazz Times Magazine. “Even if it deserves to come out, as long as it’s unissued, it really doesn’t exist. And if you wait long enough the tapes will be lost or scraped or stolen. Every label I’ve worked with, no matter how well organized and maintained their archive is, has lost tapes or had masters that were destroyed. And that was the biggest heartbreak of all.”

Cuscuna’s career is well documented in a series of four interviews, available exclusively on You Tube. In part one, Michael details how he transitioned from the broadcast to the recording industry and how he began his archive work at Blue Note Records: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYet_MZDYjs

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