Although Mosaic Records’ first release came out in July of 1983, the seeds for the business were planted in 1970. As a journalist, radio show host and record producer, I began coming into contact with many musicians who had been major players in Blue Note’s repertory company. Since Blue Note had always been my favorite label for its consistent quality, conversations would ultimately drift to those great days of the label.
Increasingly, I would hear about tantalizing unissued sessions. Soon I began writing down sketchy information from musicians about these unknown treasures in a notebook. The staggering amount of unissued material soon became evident, and I tried constantly to get into the vaults. But George Butler, who had been put in charge after Frank Wolff’s death, was oblivious to serious jazz and took the label into a very commercial direction. He stalled me for years.
Finally, Charlie Lourie, a former jazz and classical musician and executive at CBS Records, accepted the job as head of marketing for Blue Note in late 1974. We met in Los Angeles in the Spring of 1975. I showed him my notebook, which by this time had grown to sizable proportions. He was so excited that the next morning a contract was drawn up and by afternoon, I was at last in the Blue Note vaults.
The experience was staggering. There were far more unissued sessions than I had even imagined. The only trouble was that all of the company files were lost or missing, and the tape boxes only had the recording date and the name of the leader. So began a long odyssey to unravel this mess and shape it into a body of work that could be released.
I used every detective trick in the book. I would listen to a session. If I knew the leader or recognized the sidemen, I would call them to see what they would remember. Then I’d send them a cassette. I would also research any song copyrights registered around the time of the session to see if it I could determine the originals on the dates. Some musicians like Andrew Hill, Woody Shaw, Charles Tolliver and Howard Johnson had amazingly accurate memories. I would also research musicians’ union contracts for titles and personnel.
A series of double albums, combining unissued material with reissues, started in 1975. It stopped and started again. The King Records in Japan took over the Blue Note lease there and contacted me about unissued material. I started a series for them. When EMI assumed ownership of Blue Note and Liberty, I convinced them to put out a series of unissued albums as the Blue Note Classics series.
The nicest part of having this dream come true was the response of the musicians. I remember when I first starting producing Andrew Hill for Freedom Records. He sat in my living room and from memory gave me the complete personnel of 12 unissued Blue Note sessions, hoping I could get them out. Once walking down Broadway, I heard my name shouted form a cab. It was Howard Johnson asking me if I had found the Hank Mobley date that he told me about and if it was coming out. People like Elvin Jones and Hank Mobley would come up to me in clubs and hug my and thank me for getting albums issued. The approval and the enthusiasm of the artists who made the music was very important to me.
By mid 1981, all of the programs to issue unknown Blue Notes had come to an end (again). By this time, I was tired of having to convince each new company president to start a jazz vault program. But I thought I would try one last time. I called Charlie Lourie, and we collaborated on a widespread proposal for Capitol Records. Nothing came of the catalog, I wanted to do definitive, complete box sets that would bring out unissued material, correct mistakes on past reissues and draw a whole body of work together with a serious, deluxe, booklet.