Over the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of e-mailing back and forth with Mosaic Records Producer Scott Wenzel. He was gracious enough to grant me an interview for this site, and generous enough to give very detailed responses. Due to the size and depth of this interview, I am going to post it in two parts. Here is part one, enjoy!
First of all, the importance of Mosaic Records lies in the fact that we pretty much set the standard for boxed set reissues. Mosaic Records’ first release (in July of 1983) was a mix of bop (Monk’s Blue Note sessions), West Coast cool (the Mulligan piano-less Quartet with ) and boogie woogie (early Blue Note sessions from and ). An auspicious debut for a limited edition – mail order jazz label back in the days when the only way to obtain a recording was either in LP, 45 or cassette form.
However, the very seeds for the idea of Mosaic came from the persistence of journalist, broadcaster and record producer Michael Cuscuna who in the course of his research with the famed Blue Note label, had spoken with a number of musicians who told him of a number of unissued material still lingering in the vaults. However, he was unsuccessful in his bid to do so until he met up with Charlie Lourie, a former jazz and classical reedman and executive at CBS (formally Columbia and now SonyBMG), who had recently accepted a job as head of marketing for Blue Note in 1974. With a notebook chock full of information Michael had gathered regarding these unreleased sessions, he and Charlie met up in the Spring of 1975. Charlie was so impressed with what Michael had to offer that he drew up a contract for him to scour the vaults and soon thereafter a series of two-fers (the Blue Note Reissue Series) was underway.
However, by 1981, and many different reissues later, Michael had tired of having to convince executives to start a jazz reissue program. Wanting to concentrate on definitive and complete boxed sets of artists that would include these unissued gems, Michael contacted Charlie once again and through a long process of research including business structure, manufacturing and licensing, by November of 1982 these lease came through from EMI to release that first Mosaic issue. Reviews starting coming in during the latter part of 1983 and so did the orders. And recognition. The 1984 Grammy Awards saw the Monk set nominated for Best Historical Issue.
Mosaic’s home was also the home of Charlie Lourie in Santa Monica , California . However, in 1985 or ’86 – not entirely sure – they picked up shop and moved to Stamford , Connecticut – and again in Charlie’s house! I came on board part time in 1987 to handle the shipping and packing so Michael could do his research and other freelance gigs and Charlie could concentrate on the business end of things as well as answering phones and opening the mail (this of course was way before email and website orders!). Charlie and Michael also hired an office manager at that same time to assist with the daily operations. It was always quite a sight for the neighbors I’m sure, to see a huge truck come up to this residential home and send countless numbers of LPs, booklets and boxes down a set of rollers into Charlie’s basement where the “shipping department” was.
In January of 1989 Mosaic moved to a huge office and warehouse facility in an industrial / residential area of Stamford and we’ve been here ever since. That year also saw (with the release of our , Shorty Rogers and Cecil Taylor sets) the introduction of our compact disc collections. I remember as Charlie opened the first box of Mosaic CDs saying to me, “I feel like I’ve just given birth”. Since then throughout the 1990s and 2000s saw the Mosaic staff grow to seven. Our products include posters and prints of Francis Wolff BN sessions, 3 disc Mosaic Selects and Mosaic Singles and another mail order company – True Blue Music (where we “separate the wheat from the chaff”). We’ve also been nominated for more Grammy awards as well as the annual Jazz Journalist Association award nominations.
On December 31, 2000 after a courageous battle with scleroderma Charlie Lourie passed away. He was a rare individual who knew how to treat his employees properly, possessed a true passion for the music he was so honored to make available, and was a humble and loving individual.
How long have you been with Mosaic? How did you come to be there and what exactly is it that you do? Which projects have you worked on?
As I mentioned earlier, I came on board here in 1987. At the time I was working part time at my father’s hardware business in Mamaroneck , NY and hosting both a New Orleans jazz and big band show on WYRS an all jazz FM station in Stamford . It was while reading a review of the Blue Note sessions in the New York Times, that I became aware of Mosaic and as soon as I finished the article, I called and asked if they had any job opportunities. Amazingly enough, Charlie and Michael were looking for someone to do the shipping and packing. However having to work part time on radio, Mosaic and the hardware store was a little too much for me so I left Mosaic at the end of the year. In 1988, after visiting with Charlie after one of my radio shows, he told me they were moving to a larger facility and had hired a full time warehouse manager. I told him if things didn’t work out with the new manager, I’d love to come back and work full time rather than part time. Two weeks later I got a call from Charlie and began full time on January 1, 1989.
Although I had helped Michael with some information gathering for the Commodore sets, the Deccas and the small group Capitol sessions, the first set that I had a big part in was the Classic Capitol Jazz Sessions. I had brought to Michael’s attention some of the big bands from the ‘40s on Capitol and he suggested why don’t we include a couple of big bands but also concentrate on small group material as well. It was during the planning stages for this set that I was invited to do research at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers . Since then it has been an incredible source of information and for musical resources as well.
In 1997 it was decided that more sets needed to be issued and so I was asked to take on the role of producing the sets along with Michael. Whereas both Michael and Charlie’s main love was the hard bop Blue Note sessions of the 1950s and 1960s, mine was of an earlier period. I have a picture of myself from when I was 3 surrounded by 78s and those little yellow kiddie records. Since then I have collected mainly 78s of all genres but my love lies in Chicago style, small group swing and big bands. This passion led to my now current position of reissuing more of the early jazz classics on Mosaic. Among some of my sets are the , the Bix-Trumbauer-Teagarden, , Columbias, the recent Chu Berry and our latest which has been a tough one to keep in stock, the Lester Young with Count Basie. In reissuing these sets, as does Michael, I am responsible for the vault and discographical research, the gathering of photographs, selection of a liner note writer and general overseer of the finished product.