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In conversation with Sean Mason


Born and raised in Charlotte, N.C., Sean Mason started teaching himself how to play the piano at the age of 13. While attending UNC-Greensboro, he caught the attention of legendary saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

Now based in New York, Mason has recently released two critically acclaimed albums in the past nine months. "The Southern Suite," released in October 2023 on the Jazz At Lincoln Center label, is described as a reflection on Mason's life in the south and an exploration of southern traditions and culture. This album was followed in April 2024 by "Chrome Valley," an album that Mason made with the poet and educator Mahogany L. Browne that explores the Black experience in America.

Mason recently caught up with WUNC Music's Brian Burns to discuss his career and his upcoming shows at Missy Lane's Assembly Room in Durham.

This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.

Can you tell us a little bit about when the piano first came in to your life?

I started playing the piano when I was 13. My grandmother bought me a keyboard, and I started playing along with music I heard on the radio and in church. There was an upright piano in my middle school that I picked up and played, and as soon as my teacher heard me he told me to start playing in the jazz band that we had, so I kind of just took it from there. I learned by ear and eventually got some knowledge and insights about how to develop a practice routine and took it from there.

 Tell us about what people can expect from your shows at Missy Lane’s this weekend.

We bring an energy that ensures everybody is going to have a good time. Our whole goal is to play music that uplifts people. I want to root us back in to the spirit that jazz thrived on when it was first invented. That spirit of nuanced optimism and the blues and uplifting people at the end of the day. Our music inspires people to dance and have a good time.

 What has been inspiring you lately?

Lately I’ve been really deep into the art form of the concerto. I just finished listening to all of Mozart’s piano concertos. Also the art form of the opera. Richard Strauss is, I think, one of the greatest composers of the opera. I’m drawing so many connections from music of the Romantic and Post Romantic era and also from the classical era to the jazz music we hear now. It’s interesting how much of a through line there is between these different types of music, and that’s been inspiring me lately.

Sean Mason performs two shows at Missy Lane's Assembly Room in Durham on June 14 at 6:30 p.m, and 9:00 p.m.

Brian Burns is the Music Director for WUNC Music, WUNC's AAA music discovery station. He has been working within the local music scene for over a decade. On the weekends you might see him DJing at various spots around the Triangle, or digging through boxes of records. He's also the host of Future Shock on WUNC Music and a contributor to NPR Music. He graduated from UNC’s School of Information and Library Science with an MSLS in 2015.
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