The Music Genius of Sean Mason
This year, Disney is celebrating a century of creating stories of imagination and original pieces of music. It is this anniversary that sparked the idea of a project for music director and musician Sean Mason: jazz arrangements of songs from the Disney catalog. Working with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and its Director of Education and Programming Bryan Maloney, Sean was given the freedom to choose the project’s songs, as well as the musicians for the band.
“It was incredible to choose who I wanted for the band,” says Mason. “Bryan told me that this band would be considered the house band of the jazz museum.”
To approach the project, Mason did a great deal of research in order to truly honor Disney’s legacy, recognizing the wonder and the challenge of the catalog. He wanted to choose songs from each decade, as well as songs with new diverse sounds.
“The catalog has very diverse sets of styles and compositions reflective of their era,” says Mason. “They are so different, but also very similar. There is a Disney spin on all of the songs, a common thread that you notice.”
Born and raised in North Carolina, Mason started playing piano at 13 and was introduced to jazz later through the music of Ray Charles. He felt a connection to Charles’ music and proceeded down a “rabbit hole” of jazz. Mason decided to make a career jazz, studying music at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and The Juilliard School. Being in New York City, he was soon performing and touring with jazz legends, such as Wynton Marsalis and Herlin Riley, as well as artists outside of the genre, including Roy Blair and Kenneth Whalum.
Mason sees jazz as an approach to music and an approach to life. “Jazz is not strictly a genre,” says Mason. “It is a way to create. It is a template for artists to express themselves; artists like Art Blakely and Louis Armstrong.”
When You Wish Upon a Star is a new approach to a project for Mason. Used to being the composer, he is the interpreter of the music that will be presented, an interpreter of different styles and genres into jazz. From the very modern to classic, contemporary to folk, the show will highlight a variety of styles, pieced together into a continuum.
“The project has shown me just how powerful this music is,” says Mason. “It is nostalgic, it is joy, it is the inspiration to dance. I want everyone to have a good time and I hope they will feel differing degrees of emotion.”
Not sure whether you like jazz or how to listen to it? Mason has the answer for you.
“Jazz recommends you live life with an open mind. Just let the music speak to you,” he says. “There is good music and bad music; it isn’t your fault if you have been exposed to bad music. There is also jazz that is played for musicians. But, jazz is accessible.”
“If you are going to the performance, you will get to experience Disney music, but underneath that will be an understanding and an expression of me,” he continues.
The artist has been listening to a lot of Disney music. In fact, he has listened to every album of every major film from the studio to study for the performance and find the best songs. He also has been diversifying the music he is listening to, engrossed in the operas of Strauss, Mozart, and Bach. When isn’t he listening to the masters or Disney?
“I’m also listening to Babyface,” he says. “I have changed how I listen to music. No more headphones on the subway. I have deepened my listening. I sit in a chair and listen to an album in its entirety. I read the liner notes and connect to the music. I am consuming music in a healthy way.”
If Mason wasn’t a musician?
“What would I do instead? Music is my life. Difficult to think of myself existing outside of music,” he says. “I am obsessed with fashion, the language of fashion. You can say hello without saying anything.”
If you want to come and have a good time with Sean Mason, his band, and vocalists Kim Nalley and Sasha Dobson, they will be playing at Chandler Center for the Arts on Sunday, October 15, at 3 p.m. Tickets start at $26 and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 480-782-2680.