Blue Engine Records, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s in-house record label, announces Sean Mason’s debut album The Southern Suite is out now, streaming on all platforms.
A rising star who’s earned praise and support from both Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Mason’s infectious, melodic compositions combine the Southern elegance of his native North Carolina with the urban sophistication of his current home, New York City. “Closure” finds Mason wrestling with the concept of duality, and he states that the composition represents “the end of a chapter. It communicates that I can break all the rules of compositional integrity and still honor my musical ancestors. It’s inclusive of elements of gospel, as well as a rhythm that’s rooted in swing and contrapuntal techniques of classical music. This track is a nod to all my influences and asserts that I won’t be constrained to one thing.”
The genesis of The Southern Suite came from the all-star quintet that Mason handpicked to accompany him on tour: Tony Glausi (trumpet), Chris Lewis (tenor saxophone), Felix Moseholm (bass), and Domo Branch(drums). Mason recalls, “It was when we met for the first rehearsal that we first realized how special of a group we really were. We had only played through the first two songs when we all stopped and just looked at each other and smiled.”
“This album is situated at the intersection of ‘renaissance’ and ‘street culture,’” explains Mason. “Each song targets an aspect of rebirth. And looking back, it was extremely difficult to break out of the culture of conformity that street culture imposed on my life, as education wasn’t a top priority within my community, but fashion and trends were. Yet, I fought that internal battle so that I could attend to the deeply rooted, internal love of ‘renaissance’ and allow for the necessary rebirth to take place.” The Southern Suite represents a resolution of these polar forces and is a bold statement of purpose from a generational talent well on his way to becoming a leading jazz composer of the era.
Born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, Mason took to the piano at the late age of 13, teaching himself by ear to play the music of his upbringing: gospel, soul, and rhythm and blues. He would eventually meet jazz legend Branford Marsalis, who was immediately taken by Mason’s musicality and recommended he move to New York. “I told my brother [Wynton Marsalis], ‘Be on the lookout for this kid,” Marsalis recalls. Upon relocating to New York City, Mason hit the ground running, quickly securing performances and residencies for his groups at some of the city’s more prestigious jazz clubs such as Dizzy’s and Smalls as well as sideman work with such luminaries as Wynton Marsalis, Catherine Russell, and many more. All the while, he attended the Juilliard School.
Mason would be featured on NPR’s influential multimedia show “Jazz Night In America” which chose him as one of five musicians for their “Youngbloods” series. He was also featured on Branford Marsalis’ film score for the highly acclaimed Netflix production of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. In spring 2023, at Lincoln Center in collaboration with The Soapbox Presents, Mason premiered the large-scale work Chrome Valley, a multimedia piece setting his original music to the poetry of Mahogany L. Browne.
The Southern Suite Tracklist:
01 Final Voyage
05 One United
08 Sean’s Theme
About Blue Engine Records
Blue Engine Records, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s platform that makes its vast archive of recorded concerts available to jazz audiences everywhere, launched on June 30, 2015. Blue Engine Records releases new studio and live recordings as well as archival recordings from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s performance history that date back to 1987 and are part of the R. Theodore Ammon Archives and Music Library. Since the institution’s founding in 1987, each year’s programming is conceived and developed by Managing and Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis with a vision toward building a comprehensive library of iconic and wide-ranging compositions that, taken together, make up a canon of music. These archives include accurate, complete charts for the compositions – both old and new – performed each season. Coupled with consistently well-executed and recorded music performed by Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, this archive has grown to include thousands of songs from hundreds of concert dates. The launch of Blue Engine aligns with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s efforts to cultivate existing jazz fans worldwide and turn new audiences on to jazz. For more information on Blue Engine Records, visit blueenginerecords.org.