If you’re a jazz lover, then you may already have an appreciation for the beautifully-crafted box-sets that Mosaic Records has been issuing since 1983. Early on they played a crucial role in making the music of forgotten or overlooked masters such as Herbie Nichols and Tina Brooks available to a wider audience. They put together definitive sets of the Nat King Cole Trio and, more recently, saxophonist Lester Young. All in all they’ve produced more than 160 LP-sized black-box collections, in addition to several dozen smaller 3-CD Mosaic Select sets and Mosaic Singles cds. They’ve served as an inspiration to other connoisseur labels such as Hep Records and Resonance Records, and they’ve played an important role in how jazz history is perceived, through their extensive musical documentation and the care they’ve devoted to their research and presentation.
Although the news has already been circulating online in the past several months, Mosaic now confirms that a new collection devoted to pianist Teddy Wilson is on the way as well. The Wilson set will be seven CDs, comprised of all of the pianist’s leader dates (including those of his 1939-40 big band) made from 1934 to 1942 for the Columbia and Brunswick labels, except for those featuring Billie Holiday. Many previously unissued takes make up about a disc and a half of the set’s material. Loren Schoenberg, whose award-winning notes have graced several Mosaic sets, including Mosaic’s previous collection of Wilson’s 1950s Verve sides, is writing the booklet. Mosaic hopes to release the set in either December of this year or January 2018. Scott Wenzel, the co-creative helm at Mosaic along with founder Michael Cuscuna, also says that Mosaic’s excellent Benny Goodman Columbia and Okeh set will be coming back into stock either this month or next.
Earlier this week Mosaic announced that its Charlie Parker set of live recordings made by Parker disciple Dean Benedetti was now in the “running low” category, which is the next-to-last stop on a Mosaic set’s way to extinction. Some posters at the Organissimo jazz discussion board found this worrisome news, since Mosaic owns the Parker Benedetti masters (all of its other sets are drawn from temporarily-licensed recordings); the assumption has always been that the Parker set would therefore always be available. Is this an indication that Mosaic is preparing to close up shop? A message that the label sent out earlier this year, articulating its mounting challenges in a much-changed consumer landscape, had already registered with high seismic impact among lovers of the classic-jazz sets that Mosaic has so meticulously curated for the past several decades. The message triggered an avalanche of sales for Mosaic, seemingly giving them enough financial breathing room to at least order new runs of several sets that had been on backorder (such as the Benny Goodman) and to proceed with the Teddy Wilson set. I emailed Scott Wenzel today to ask about the status of the Wilson and Goodman sets, and if the Parker set being put on “running low” notice portended anything more significant about the fate of Mosaic in general. Here’s his response:
We’ve been telling people for over 30 years that as long as there’s a Mosaic there will be the Parker set since, yes, we own the masters. However, since it has been out since…1990?? I forget… most people already have it and we are getting low on our latest pressing. Again, even though we own the masters, we still have to purchase a minimum of CDs, jewel boxes, booklets and boxes – probably 500 – which we will never sell the entire run having us stuck with probably 250 or more of these sets just sitting on the shelves.
I’m not going to say we are winding down right now. But unless some incredible miracle happens where jazz becomes the new hip-hop and people start buying CDs and LPs more than they are downloading, then yes, we will crash and burn. As you know we cannot obtain licenses to download so that is another problem we face.
But with that said we soldier on and hope we can make things go for a few more years.
So no, Mosaic is not on the brink of shutting down in the immediate future. It would still behoove any jazz fan wishing to purchase a set to buy now rather than later, though, and it sounds as if Mosaic will sunset with the eventual retirement of Cuscuna and Wenzel. They, along with co-founder Charlie Lourie and all of the other folks who’ve worked with or for Mosaic over the past 34 years, have earned immense gratitude from me (and many others) for the passion and expertise that they’ve put in service of jazz and the artists who created this amazing music. I’ll be listening to my Mosaic sets for whatever count of years I have left upon this earth; here’s hoping there are a few more still to come.