South Charlotte

Teen is serious about playing jazz on piano

Jazz pianist Sean Mason enjoys expressing himself through music. The 17-year-old student is a participant in the Jazz Arts Initiative youth workshops and ensembles.
Jazz pianist Sean Mason enjoys expressing himself through music. The 17-year-old student is a participant in the Jazz Arts Initiative youth workshops and ensembles.

Sean Mason is a 17-year-old pianist with a promising future. After taking piano lessons in seventh grade he decided to stop. Shortly after that, he was inspired by the movie “Ray,” about the life of Ray Charles. Mason was so inspired that he decided to teach himself to play the piano.

What Mason took away from the movie changed the course of his life.

“I could feel how the artist expressed his emotions through his music, how it made him happy and how it was a release,” he said.

When Mason plays the piano, he says he goes to a comfortable place inside himself where “It’s honest.”

“For me it’s definitely personal. I’m playing what I hear,” Mason said recently. “It’s something hard to put into words.”

Some of the musicians he admires include Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, and Errol Garner.

“I’ve moved up the time-line to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and from there to the 21st century with people like Gerald Clayton, Robert Glasper and Taylor Eigsti,” he said.

Mason said he is also inspired by classical music.

“I love music period. Everything is combined. You can’t put lines on stuff anymore,” he said. “It’s hard to say what’s jazz, gospel even hip-hop is different.”

In October 2014, Mason won first place in the Loonis McGlohon Young Jazz Artist Competition sponsored by the Jazz Arts Initiative and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. In April of 2015, Mason was the featured jazz pianist before a concert by Delfeayo Marsalis at the Loonis McGlohon Theater in Spirit Square.

He has participated in the JAI Jazz Academy Youth Ensembles and Workshops program for the past four years. He is one of about 30 students who play a variety of instruments on Sunday afternoons. Mason has worked to reach the highest level of involvement, which allows him to be part of the All Star Jazz Youth Ensemble.

“JAI opened my ears to styles of jazz. It kept me open minded to all types of jazz,” Mason said.

Lonnie Davis founded JAI with her husband, Ocie, six years ago. It is a nonprofit organization that connects the cultural community and develops an audience for jazz through education, performance and musician support. That includes offering jazz education in area schools.

Lonnie Davis says the dedication and commitment shown by Mason is admirable.

“It’s a privilege to work with Sean and others in the program,” Davis said. “Sean is a special young man. He is a great example for young musicians. A lot of people know us for the jazz performances we sponsor, but our main focus is jazz education … to create future audience members and musicians.”

Mason is one example of the program’s success.

“Sean has been featured in a number of different professional settings. Our participants get opportunities to play outside of the program,” Lonnie Davis said. “We need financial support to help provide scholarships for students like Sean.”

In addition to JAI, Mason serves as a musician playing the organ and piano at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. He also plays regular gigs around Charlotte. The Phillip O. Berry High School senior plans to attend college. He lives with his mother and says he wants to stay grounded and get a degree.

Before he turned 13, Mason said he had time to play football, basketball, baseball and video games.

“I’m glad I got a chance to be a normal kid before I started getting serious with music,” Mason said.

When asked how he’d advise young people interested in music Mason said, “playing music is just another way to express yourself, be honest about it and have fun. Be open-minded to all music and learn as much as you can. Take your time. If it takes seven hours to learn one song, then so be it.”

Charlene Price-Patterson is a freelance writer:

Learn more

For more information about the Jazz Arts Initiative go to: or call 704-336-9350.

Donations can be made online or sent to: JAI Spirit Square 345 N. College St. - Suite 405B Charlotte. The JAI annual benefit concert “A Swingin’ Holiday Celebration@the Booth” is Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m.