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Take Five With Pianist Sean Mason


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Meet Sean Mason

On Friday, November 17th at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey, pianist Sean Mason will lead a five-piece ensemble and two wonderful singers in a special tribute to Disney's centennial. In a one-night only concert, audiences will hear 100 years of Disney through the lens of jazz. "When You Wish Upon a Star—A Jazz Tribute to 100 Years of Disney" presents popular songs from famous Disney films such as Snow White, Mary Poppins and Toy Story many of which have been interpreted and recorded by jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Dianne Reeves and many more. "Someday My Prince Will Come," "He's a Tramp," "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" and "The Bare Necessities" are just a few of the iconic tunes from Disney movies to be performed live on the NJPAC stage.



I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

Music has always been a part of my life growing up in the South—from going to church every Sunday to free-styling at the lunch table in grade school to dancing at a holiday family cookout—however, it was listening to Ray Charles that inspired me to become a musician... but if only I knew what I was getting into! It's like that Michelangelo quote where he equates being an artist to an innocent splendor of beauty that one day floods back into your heart and tortures you without end!

Teachers and/or influences:

Thelonious Monk, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Sonny Rollins.

Road Story: Your best or worst experience?

The road is a beautiful experience, it's a controlled, communal environment that allows you to grow as a human being and become a better version of yourself—both musically and personally. My best experiences on the road occurred while playing with Catherine Russell, and when I'm on the road with my quartet. My worst experiences—well, that's a topic for private discourse.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

I am extremely proud of the entire The Southern Suite album, but my favorite has to be "Closure"—as it so excellently embodies the entire concept of the album into one recording/composition.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

I don't really have any fears when I perform, there's just simply too much to be grateful for—performing is a divine state of musical and spiritual ecstasy.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

My mission is to dedicate myself fully to learning the language of music and come out on the other side as the best version of myself that I can possibly be. It is my hope that my authenticity and musical artistry will create lasting value and positive impact for the lives of many—while also inspiring many others to be 100% themselves and that by unearthing their most authentic self, they may pursue the things that are in alignment with that. I continue to remain humble on my journey as a lifelong student to the language of music.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

The state of jazz is like the current state of American politics—it is the result of an "us vs them" mental disease that has been left untreated far past its breaking point. It's like herd mentality on steroids, where the two [parties] are "traditional jazz" and "modern jazz": one suffering from innovation without constraint, and the other suffering from orthodox without introspection. The music has also unfortunately been stripped of most of its roots: the blues, sex, dance, and a singable melody—which is reflected in the audience demographic, the aesthetic appeal, and the inaccessible nature of the music itself.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

The responsibility is two-fold, and both groups (myself included) have their fair share of work to do: First, as musical artists we must remain unwavering in our approach to individual expression, artistic excellence, and innovation, but not at the expense of maintaining a reverence for all that has come before us—and that reverence should not be expressed in wordplay, but rather in practice and discipline. Second, as patrons or supporters of the arts, stop telling artists what to do, how to do it, and why to do it. Both groups are essential to the well being of this art form, and the music can't survive without one or the other.

What is in the near future?

I'm very excited about the release of my debut album, The Southern Suite, featuring my original compositions performed by my quintet, coming on October 27 through Jazz at Lincoln Center's Blue Engine Records. I'm also currently on a two-month tour, serving as the musical director for "When You Wish Upon A Star—A Jazz Tribute to 100 Years of Disney," a show in collaboration with IMG and The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and that's been going well.




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