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Michael Cuscuna, Who Unearthed Hidden Jazz Gems, Dies at 75

Michael Cuscuna, who introduced an artist’s stage of devotion and a scientist’s consideration to element to the work of exhuming and producing archival jazz recordings — work that vastly expanded entry to the buried treasures of American music’s previous — died on Saturday at his house in Stamford, Conn. He was 75.

The singer and songwriter Billy Vera, a pal of greater than 60 years, stated the trigger was issues of esophageal most cancers.

Mr. Cuscuna might have been probably the most prolific archival document producer in historical past. Beginning in an period when midcentury jazz skilled a resurgence of curiosity, his identify confirmed up within the positive print on over 2,600 albums, most of them reissues, lots of which included his painstaking liner notes.

The Mosaic label, which he based with the music-business veteran Charlie Lourie 41 years in the past, has turn out to be the gold commonplace of archival jazz releases. Its first situation was an exhaustive boxed set of previous materials that Mr. Cuscuna had discovered within the vaults of the famed Blue Word label.

Quickly after that, he helped to revive Blue Word, which had been dormant for years. Working with Bruce Lundvall, who grew to become Blue Word’s president in 1984, Mr. Cuscuna took cost of the label’s again catalog. He launched unissued gold by John Coltrane, Artwork Blakey and quite a few others, in the end combing via the whole catalog and placing out nearly each misplaced monitor that appeared match to be heard.

“Discovering one thing that’s by no means been heard earlier than and inflicting it to come back out, for me, was all the time an extremely gratifying factor,” he stated in a video interview with Brett Primack. “Even should you put one thing out and it solely sells 1,000 copies and will get deleted in two years — as soon as you place it out, it exists. As soon as it’s out on the earth, it’s out on the earth. That may get copied, it could get analyzed, it could get critiqued. But when it’s simply sitting on a shelf, it solely exists in a theoretical manner. It doesn’t exist.”

Mr. Cuscuna’s archival dives at Blue Word additionally turned up tens of 1000’s of pictures taken within the studio by Francis Wolff, one of many label’s founders. Mr. Cuscuna organized and administered the photograph archive as nicely.

He gained Grammy Awards for producing boxed units of Nat King Cole and Billie Vacation, and for the liner notes he wrote for a Miles Davis field.

“In individual, Cuscuna might be acerbic, magnetic, wickedly humorous, loud, and all the time fiercely dedicated to musicians and their music,” the writer Ashley Kahn wrote in a tribute on the Blue Word Data web site.

Mr. Cuscuna had a regular reply when anybody requested if he had a favourite type of music: “Atlantic singles and Blue Word albums.”

In January, DownBeat journal honored Mr. Cuscuna with its award for lifetime achievement in recording.

He’s survived by his spouse, Lisa (Podgur) Cuscuna; his son, Max; his daughter, Lauren Cuscuna; and two grandchildren. Two earlier marriages led to divorce.

Michael Arthur Cuscuna was born on Sep. 20, 1948, in Stamford. His father, Arthur, labored at a housing undertaking; his mom, Lorraine, managed the house. His first musical love was the Black standard music he heard on the radio within the late Fifties.

He began amassing 45-r.p.m. data when he was 7 and started drum classes just a few years later. This sparked an curiosity in drummer-bandleaders like Max Roach and Buddy Wealthy. “After I began to listen to the music across the drums, that’s once I bought fully hooked,” he instructed DownBeat.

As a teen within the mid-Nineteen Sixties, Mr. Cuscuna labored at a document store and infrequently went to New York on weekends with a cousin and associates to hop between document shops — the place they might take pattern listens to way more data than they may purchase — and jazz golf equipment, usually returning to Stamford on the final practice at 3:30 a.m.

By the point he enrolled on the Wharton Faculty of the College of Pennsylvania, he knew he needed to discovered a document label. However nothing about enterprise faculty agreed with him, so he switched his main to English; started doing a nightly present on the campus radio station; and located part-time work on the influential avant-garde label ESP-Disk, studying the music enterprise on the job. After graduating, he began writing for Rolling Stone and DownBeat and hosted a radio present on a progressive FM station in Philadelphia, till WABC-FM in New York employed him away.

Mr. Cuscuna got here to producing through the radio. When the blues guitarist Buddy Man was a visitor on his present, Mr. Cuscuna talked about that he was thinking about producing. Mr. Man later bumped into issues together with his label and referred to as Mr. Cuscuna with a suggestion: Are available in and produce this session for me.

He independently produced just a few extra albums, together with Bonnie Raitt’s “Give It Up,” earlier than leaving radio and turning into a employees producer for Atlantic Data. His work there swept throughout a variety of jazz — together with each the Artwork Ensemble of Chicago, whom he dropped at the label, and Dave Brubeck — in addition to pop and blues.

He ultimately went freelance, working with Muse, Arista, Motown, ABC and different labels.

As a listener, Blue Word had all the time been his favourite, and his ears all the time perked up when he heard artists discussing previous classes that they’d performed on. “I’d hear issues stated like, ‘Keep in mind that Lee Morgan document we had been on? It by no means bought launched,’” he recalled in an interview for the web site Jerry Jazz Musician. “I began to convey a pocket book, and I began making notes of all these conversations. Then I’d begin asking musicians.”

It took him years of prodding at Blue Word, however in 1975 he gained entry to the label’s vaults because of Mr. Lourie, Blue Word’s new head of selling, who shared Mr. Cuscuna’s pursuits. He discovered way more high-quality unreleased materials than he’d anticipated. Between 1975 and 1981, Mr. Cuscuna helped convey out quite a few albums of beforehand unissued Blue Word recordings.

DownBeat’s critics’ ballot launched a class for producer of the 12 months in 1979, and Mr. Cuscuna gained it for the primary three years straight. But musicians’ appreciation mattered to him extra.

“As soon as, strolling down Broadway, I heard my identify shouted from a cab. It was Howard Johnson asking me if I had discovered the Hank Mobley date that he instructed me about and if it was popping out,” Mr. Cuscuna remembered in an essay posted to Mosaic’s web site. “The approval and the passion of the artists who made the music was crucial to me.”

Whereas combing via Blue Word’s archive, he listened to all of the label’s Thelonious Monk recordings from the Forties and ’50s, and located half-hour of never-before-released materials.

The label heads weren’t , however he had a plan of his personal: He and Mr. Lourie would begin an unbiased label dedicated to releasing as a lot materials from the vault as they may. In 1983, they based Mosaic Data; a full set of Monk’s Blue Word recordings was its first launch.

Mosaic launched its boxed units in hand-numbered, restricted runs. Mr. Cuscuna continued to run the label, with Scott Wenzel, till his loss of life. By means of the label, he was liable for collating, annotating and releasing units by Dexter Gordon, Rely Basie, Duke Ellington and plenty of others.

For Mr. Cuscuna, jazz’s inventive progress depended upon musicians with the ability to converse with its previous.

“There was a complete younger group within the early ’80s of music college students who grew to become skilled musicians, who didn’t have entry to this unbelievable physique of labor,” he instructed Mr. Primack. “When you make it accessible to them, it sends out that data, and that data impacts the long run as a lot because it celebrates the previous.”

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