Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A Mosaic label was formed by Graham Collier in Britain in the 1970s for his own music, and is now apparently quiescent; the more famous Mosaic Records is the successful label for limited-edition jazz reissues formed in the USA '83 by Michael Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie in Lourie's apartment in Santa Monica, later moved to the East Coast. Woodwind player Lourie (b 20 April 1940, Boston MA; d 31 December 2000 of scleroderma) attended the New England Conservatory, played with the Boston Symphony as well as Herb Pomeroy, worked for Columbia, Blue Note, Warner Bros; Cuscuna was an experienced writer and producer (see his entry). Cuscuna had extensive knowledge of the Blue Note vaults and both knew there must be a market for first-class reissues. In order to make deals with record companies the sets had to be limited editions; the first was The Complete Blue Note Recordings Of Thelonious Monk on four LPs, long gone. The business started slowly; Lourie told Gene Lees '84 that they must have been out of their minds, but word got around about the excellence of what they were doing, sets routinely appearing in annual critics' lists of the best reissues. The vinyl pressings were of high quality, but they switched to heavier 'Q' pressings which were even better; meanwhile they were soon allowed to issue CD editions of most sets as well, but they remain committed to issuing vinyl until 1998. Mosaic issued The Complete Commodore Jazz Recordings in three volumes (totalling 66 LPs, sold out) and distributed the Japanese edition of The Complete Keynote Collection (21 LPs plus a seven-inch bonus of a newly-discovered track by Lennie Tristano). Mosaic has issued vinyl editions of The Complete Miles Davis Plugged Nickel Sessions, The Complete Columbia Studio Sessions Of Miles Davis And Gil Evans, and more Davis 'complete' sets, as well as Bill Evans: The Final Village Vanguard Sessions June 1980 while Columbia and Warner Bros issued the CD sets.
Nearly every Mosaic set included previously unreleased tracks and a valuable booklet (writers including Cuscuna, Max Harrison, Dan Morgenstern, Dick Sudhalter, many others); in most cases the record company gets the benefit of Mosaic's scholarship and research, as well as superb new transfers. Among the more ambitious sets have been The Complete Capitol Recordings Of The Nat King Cole Trio (18 CDs or 27 LPs); forays into R&B included sets by Charles Brown, Amos Milburn and T-Bone Walker. Among the most valuable sets still available early '97 were those of Lee Morgan (Blue Note '50s), Woody Shaw (complete studio Columbia) and Andrew Hill (Blue Note '63-6). Of about 70 sets by early '97 over half were out of print for ever. More issues included The Complete Capitol Studio Stan Kenton 1943-47 and sets by Illinois Jacquet, Curtis Fuller, Sam Rivers, Jack Teagarden and J. J. Johnson; an unusual set was The Phil Woods Quartet/Quintet 20th Anniversary Set, because none of the tracks had been issued before, all coming from Woods's private stash. The only set that was not a limited edition is The Complete Benedetti Charlie Parker (ten Q-LPs or seven CDs); the legendary recordings of the late Dean Benedetti were purchased by Mosaic from his brother. All sets come in sturdy 12-inch boxes; all booklets are also 12-inch so you don't need a magnifying glass. Mosaic also started a valuable series of 3-CD sets called Mosaic Select, and Mosaic Singles, of which one of the best was The Jazz Piano, a reissue of an RCA LP recorded live at the Jazz Piano Workshop of the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival in June 1965, with Duke Ellington, Willie 'The Lion' Smith, Mary Lou Williams, Earl Hines, Billy Taylor and Charles Bell, with eight previously unissued tracks. Mosaic also operated True Blue, a retail service offering jazz CDs on many labels, useful now that many communities have no specialist record shops at all.

UPDATE: The state of the music business is parlous in 2020, mainly due to the impact of technology. Too many people want their music for free, or streaming, like a throw-away commodity. In 2005, Mosaic had a staff of 12, and their own warehouse, loading dock and offices; 15 years later they had a staff of two, and instead of doing all their own collating and shipping, it had to be done by a fulfillment center. Yet they are still at it: new sets of Woody Herman and Hank Mobley came out in 2019-20; we had to wait for them, but nothing on earth is more worth waiting for than a Mosaic set.