Michael Cuscuna: Jazz Spelunker

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Michael Cuscuna is a jazz curator and archivist, and a man you can trust. Today, vinyl is enjoying a resurgence of popularity, but many vinyl albums turn out not to analog at all: they’re mastered from digital files. You’re losing a generation of sound. The best companies: Analogue Productions, Impex, Mobile Fidelity, and Cuscuna’s Mosaic Records all go straight into record company archives and find the original master tapes and go from there.

I met Michael in the 1970s when he was producing Jazz Alive!, a popular syndicated jazz show for NPR from 1977-1983.

Cuscuna is also encyclopedic and totally committed to sorting out which sessions were done when, who was playing on them, and presenting his results in box sets on Mosaic. He is both curator, archivist, and preservationist. He goes deep into long-neglected record company archives, digging out long-forgotten gems. When record companies were being bought out by larger companies, there were horror stories, e.g., John Coltrane reel-to-reel masters being thrown int he dumpster and other atrocities. He has to deal with reel-to-reel boxes with stickers gone, handwriting faded, poor storage, and the like. And yet, through devotion and dedication to his craft, he is able to bring us countless classics, including outtakes and other material we’d never heard before.

Cuscuna did most of the RVG (Rudy Van Gelder), Connoisseur, and other reissue series for the great Blue Note label. He also has worked for Impulse and other companies. The jazz recording industry is lucky to have him. Jazz fans should be grateful too!

Listen to my interview with Cuscuna in 2009 along with Erin Davis (Miles Davis’ nephew). We chat about jazz archives and the anniversary of Kind Of Blue and why it’s one of the most popular jazz record of all time. Again, the reissuing of the Blue Note catalog was largely in part to the work of Michael Cuscuna.


The Mosaic Records Story is an online documentary that is available only by watching directly on YouTube. It’s an interesting 3 part series that I highly recommend watching to learn about Cuscuna’s life, his start, all the work that goes into the reissue process, especially for the Miles Davis Box Sets.

Click here to watch Part 1 about his life and how he got his start, as well as, how the reissue process started at Blue Note.

Click here to watch Part 2 of the reissue process and the work on the Miles Davis box sets.

Click here to watch Part 3 which talks about The Jazz Messengers, Norah Jones, and how the music industry has changed.