Michael Cuscuna dies

    A jazz archaeologist before it became fashionable, Cuscuna was famed for unearthing overlooked Blue Note material and founding Mosaic Records

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    Michael Cuscuna, around 2011

    The following notice, reporting the death of jazz historian and producer Michael Cuscuna, was received from Mosaic Records on 21 April 2024. A Jazz Journal obituary will follow.


    Michael Cuscuna, 1948-2024

    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.”