Mosaic Images History
Francis Wolff photographed every Blue Note session between 1940 and 1969. This body of work contains thousands of black & white images and hundreds of color images, all of which capture intimately the expressive and creative moments of artists preserved at their peak in the Blue Note recording sessions.
In 1970, Francis Wolff sent all of his negatives and contact sheets to Alfred Lion who was then in retirement. Francis died on March 8, 1971, and after that, the negatives sat in trunks for more than 16 years. Alfred missed deeply the childhood friend with whom he had created his life’s work, and he felt that opening those trunks would bring more sadness than fond memories.
In his retirement, Alfred gradually became isolated. His wife Ruth Mason Lion, became protective, feeling that contact with the music world would only add to the stress that lead to his failing health and retirement in 1967. The only person with whom he remained in contact was Horace Silver.
In 1976, Michael Cuscuna, a jazz record producer, had become deeply immersed in Blue note history. Researching unissued music in the Blue Note vaults, he had began unearthing some extraordinary material. From 1976 to 1981, he released previously unissued sessions on Blue Note as the “Vault Series”. Cuscuna implored Horace, a good friend at the time, to put him in touch with Alfred. Unfortunately, Horace was at first reluctant, stating that the Lions wished to maintain their privacy. It wasn’t until years later that Cuscuna would have the opportunity to finally meet the great producer.
In 1981, Silver, who was the last active Blue Note artist, fulfilled his contract and moved on. The vault series of unissued sessions came to an abrupt end that same year, and Blue Note fell into a state of complete dormancy. But Cuscuna was determined to get back into the Blue Note vaults. Soon after that, Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie launched Mosaic Records, with the intention of issuing historic material previously unreleased music in deluxe boxed sets. They called their company Mosaic Records and it soon became the definitive label known for producing complete collections of great jazz musicians Two of their first releases were “The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk” and “The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis.”
A New York Times review of these sets caught Alfred’s eye. Not wanting to anger his wife, he went to a neighbor’s house and called Mosaic collect to see what all this was about. Two hours later, he and Michael were phone pals joined at the hip. Eventually, Ruth saw how the joy of contact with music people was affecting Alfred in a positive way and consequently softened her ban on all things connected to Blue Note.
All of Mosaic’s deluxe boxed sets had lavish booklets rich in text and photography. As much of the music was drawn from Blue Note masters, the booklets cried out for specific photos that could only have been taken at the sessions. In 1985, Alfred finally opened Wolff’s trunks for Cuscuna and Lourie, giving access to Mosaic Records for the boxed set booklets. Beginning with “The Complete Bud Powell Blue Note Recordings” and “The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Herbie Nichols,” Mosaic started to reproduce previously unpublished Wolff photographs.
The collection remained with the Lions until it was sold to Cuscuna and Lourie who formed Mosaic Images in 1992. Artist-designer-photographer Lisa Cuscuna spent several years cataloging and preserving this amazing historic archive.
Immediately, Cuscuna, Lourie and Fred Seibert, who has worn many hats as an engineer, record producer and animation producer, began pouring through the thousands of images to select significant photographs. In the ensuing years, designer Oscar Schnider, photographer Jimmy Katz and others have delved into this archive, uncovering more gems.
Since then, previously unseen Francis Wolff photographs have appeared in hundreds of magazines and CD and LP artwork .They have been prominently featured in documentaries (Ken Burns’ Jazz, Blue Note Records: Beyond The Notes, I Called Him Morgan, Chasing Trane, Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool and It Must Schwing) and feature films (Mr. Holland’s Opus, Cadillac Records and La La Land).
The collection has been the subject of six books and countless exhibitions around the world. Francis Wolff photographs are in the permanent collections of The Natural Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., The Jewish Museum, Berlin and The Circulo De Belles Artes, Madrid.
Videos from Mosaic Images
Books & Exhibitions
Chartwell Books, New York City 1995
George Eastman House, Rochester, New York 2000
Espace Pierre Cardin, Paris 2006
Morrison Hotel Gallery, New York City 2007
Morrison Hotel Gallery, La Jolla, California 2007
The North Sea Jazz Festival, Rotterdam 2009
Stuttgart Jazz Festival 2009
The Jewish Museum, Berlin 2009
The Goethe Institute, Washington, D.C. 2014
Kyotographie, Kyoto 2015
Les Rencontres De La Photographie, Arles, France 2015
The Circulo De Belles Artes, Madrid 2015
The Blue Note Years – The Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff (Rizzoli International Publications, 1995)
Blue Note Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff (Universe Publishing, 2000)
Francis Wolff/Jimmy Katz - Blue Note Photography (Jazzprezzo, 2009)
Blue Note Photos - Francis Wolff (YellowKorner/Flammarion, 2014)
The Blue Note Photographs of Francis Wolff (YellowKorner, 2014)
Jazz Images by Francis Wolff (Elemental, 2019)