Thousands of Unseen Blue Note Photos Online Now

Francis Wolff's archives released after spending years in storage

Blue Note Records' founders Alfred Lion (left) and Francis Wolff in 1965
Blue Note Records’ founders Alfred Lion (left) and Francis Wolff in 1965

After remaining in storage and unseen for nearly 50 years, thousands of photographs taken by Blue Note Records executive and producer Francis Wolff during the historic label’s heyday are available online, courtesy of Mosaic Records Images.

Today, more than 2,700 images are available on www.mosaicrecordsimages.com for licensing in publications, album and book packaging. In addition, over 90 of the most famous images are available for sale as fine art prints in three sizes.

Wolff was on the scene for every Blue Note recording session from 1940 to 1969. His personal archive ended up in the hands of Blue Note co-founder Alfred Lion following Wolff’s death in 1971. The images remained in storage under Lion’s care for 16 years.

In the mid-1980s the archives were rediscovered by jazz record producer Michael Cuscuna, whose affinity for the label had led him to keep it from obscurity. Starting in 1976, he began releasing unissued music from the Blue Note archives as the “Vault Series.”

In 1981, the “Vault Series” ended as Blue Note entered a period of dormancy. But in 1982, Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie launched Mosaic Records to reissue previously unreleased music in deluxe boxed sets. 

In 1985, Lion opened Wolff’s archives for Cuscuna. Archive images started appearing in Mosaic Records’ 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Blue Note Recordings and The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Herbie Nichols, Mosaic started to reproduce previously unpublished Wolff photographs.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 Lion’s estate 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 the historic archive.

Cuscuna, Lourie, and record producer Fred Seibert began sifting through the thousands of images to select significant photographs. In the ensuing years, designer Oscar Schnider, photographer Jimmy Katz, and others have delved into the archive.

In the years since, previously unseen Francis Wolff photographs have appeared in hundreds of magazines and in the CD and LP artwork. They have also been the subject of six books and exhibitions around the world. Wolff’s images are in the permanent collections of the National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., the Jewish Museum, Berlin; and the Circulo de Belles Artes, Madrid.