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For pianist Sean Mason, it's about the melody and the dance

Sean Mason
Courtesy of the artist
Sean Mason

Updated June 29, 2023 at 11:06 AM ET

Sean Mason is in no rush. The young pianist and composer takes his time in playing and composing, imagining his music as a physical space through which to guide the listener. He sees much of that music taking place in the south, specifically North Carolina, where he grew up playing piano in church. "It's something about ... that feeling of going to that part of the south that always sticks with me," he says. "And so I can't really get that out of my music."

Mason's music is also exceptionally groovy – as he puts it, "my purpose is to play dance music," citing ragtime and stride piano as two of his greatest inspirations, along with early hero Ray Charles.

Mason moved to New York in 2018 to attend Juilliard, where he connected with the late pianist Frank Kimbrough, who became his private instructor and an important friend. Mason also caught the attention of both Wynton and Branford Marsalis, who have selected him for the piano chair on some highly prestigious gigs, from an all-Ellington program at Jazz at Lincoln Center to the soundtrack for the film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

In this episode, we'll hear a Sean Mason Trio performance at Dizzy's Club, as well as Mason playing Ellington with bassist Endea Owens, and a song recorded in honor of Frank Kimbrough.


Sean Mason Trio: Sean Mason, piano; Butler Knowles, bass; Malcolm Charles, drums.

"Dancers in Love": Sean Mason, piano; Endea Owens, bass

"For Jimmy G" from KIMBROUGH: Ron Horton, trumpet; Michael Blake, tenor saxophone; Sean Mason, piano; Michael Formanek, bass; Billy Drummond, drums.

Set List:

All music written by Sean Mason unless otherwise noted

  • Sean's Theme
  • The Lagoon 
  • Dancers in Love (Duke Ellington)
  • For Jimmy G (Frank Kimbrough)
  • Boisterous Blues 
  • Lavender/Sean's Theme
  • Folly but Q 
  • Bougie Rag
  • Credits:

    Writer and Producers: Alex Ariff, Trevor Smith and Sarah Geledi; Assistant Producers: Scout Opatut and Camilo Garzón; Host: Christian McBride; Recording Engineer: Rob Macomber; Consulting Editor: Katie Simon; Episode mix: Ron Scalzo; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Vice President of Visuals and Strategy at NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

    Copyright 2023 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

    Scout Opatut
    Camilo Garzón
    Alex Ariff
    Alex Ariff has big ears. A musician first, he straddles the worlds between performance/songwriting, media production and storytelling. Alex earned his B.A in Music from Florida State University where he fell for all facets of jazz music, history, and culture. He went onto earn his M.A. in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University-Newark. It was during this time that Alex began working at WBGO, where he currently works as a producer on Jazz Night in America. Outside of WBGO, Alex enjoys lapsang souchong, bike rides, and playing with his band The Wali Sanga.