Unique insight into what it really takes to be a musician
May 2019 –– “I decided to focus on music late. So I never envisioned myself at Julliard or playing with folks like Wynton Marsalis, “ says Sean Mason. Sean, a Charlottean and JazzArts Ensemble alumnus, indicates his musical career success has been unexpected. His experience offers insight to the future of jazz and our students.
Sean says he spent his childhood playing sports. He enjoyed music, but his focus was hanging out with friends from his teams and listening to popular music. When his mom signed him up for JazzArts Ensemble, it felt like many of his musical peers had been serious at music for years.
Sean credits JazzArts Youth Ensemble with exposing him to a variety of music and peaking his interest in experiencing more. “It’s not a classroom with a music textbook. Our instruments were out and we were playing.”
In that environment, Sean recalls talking with people he wasn’t used to, nonathletes, different cultures, and different backgrounds. Students were put together with a group of musicians who didn’t know each other and had to figure out how to make music with them. “I realized they were not that different. I learned how to connect with them.”
Interestingly, Sean feels that these are the key skills that help him as a successful musician: developing an array of experiences to draw from and connecting with the audience. Sean’s musical talents were noted quickly. But, “for me, technical mastery is only the beginning.” He points out that most audiences aren’t musicians and may not understand the music they are hearing. They are there to be fed emotionally. “That’s what art should be.”
In 2014 and at age 17, Sean won 1st place in the first Loonis McGlohon Young Jazz Artist Competition. The Charlotte Observer said he had a “promising future”. Still unclear of his future path, he belatedly applied for and received Alyse Smith Cooper Music Scholarship at UNCG. From there, his musical focus and leadership clarified. He moved to New York to attend Julliard and begin his jazz career. Sean is a rising star there, and can often be heard at Smalls Jazz Club and at Dizzy’s Club.
From his current vantage point, Sean says he would look back at his 13 year old self and say keep doing teenager things and building on your experiences. To his 17 year old self, he would offer encouragement and confidence. Don’t compare yourself to others and just keep doing what you enjoy.
This month in the JAZZ ROOM
Sean Mason will be playing the cool jazz music of Ahmad Jamal.
In similar fashion, Art Tatem looked at a 14 year old Ahmad Jamal and called him “a coming great”. Art is a legend, and now so is Ahmad. “We have living legends like Wynton Marsalis today and it is a great feeling when experienced musicians are willing to interact with the coming generation,” muses Sean.
During the time jazz music was all fast-paced bebop, Ahmad was a more nuanced player transforming the music itself to what became cool jazz. Across over 50 years, you can hear the evolution of his spirituality in the evolution of Jamal’s music. Born in a Baptist family, he converted to Islam. “I think spiritual awakenings happen in jazz all the time,” says Sean. He plans to walk through this evolution of this epic musician in the May show.