Inside Jazz: You Play Good . . . for a Girl, with Melanie Burzon (KCSM) - Saturday, July 27, 7:00 p.m., prior to the Tia Fuller Quartet
An inspiring jazz educator and soulful multi-reed player, Tia Fuller has blown audiences away with artists as diverse as pop star Beyoncé and jazz heavyweight Jon Faddis. Living in the rarefied atmosphere of superstar pop and the exclusive circles of the top-level New York jazz scene brings a unique dynamism to her music that illuminates all three of her albums. Her work evokes the ’60s Blue Note era as well as contemporary jazz sounds. From surging post-bop to sophisticated, R&B-influenced ballads, Fuller’s music offers plenty to inspire and delight.
For additional information, visit www.tiafuller.com.
As an aspiring saxophonist in high school, Tia Fuller experienced a life changing epiphany after soloing on “I Hear a Rhapsody.” No, she didn’t discover new harmonic relationships, and she wasn’t transported by overflowing lyricism, or even swept away by the rapturous applause of the crowd. Rather, Fuller’s clarifying moment came from what she perceived as a moment of failure.
“It was the end of my senior year, I was soloing on soprano and I completely kacked it,” Fuller recalls. “Some friend said you sounded great, but I was really feeling down. I decided that I didn’t want to mess around. I want to pursue this professionally, and take on the challenge of being a professional musician.
“I was heavily into the drum line,” Fuller continues. “I had been wondering whether I should go into the drum corps and pursue that, but I didn’t see longevity there. So I decided to really sink my teeth into jazz.”
Talk about a ferocious bite! Over the past dozen years, the saxophonist/flutist has established herself as an elite improviser with a rare gift for thriving under the most intense spotlights. During the same time period she’s joined the Stanford Jazz Workshop faculty numerous times, and tonight’s concert marks her second festival appearance.
In her early 20s during her first Workshop stint in 2001, Fuller arrived in the Bay Area brimming with talent and promise. A fiery and lyrically charged improviser on flute and alto and soprano saxophone, she seemed poised on the brink of big things. A series of heavyweight bandleaders sized her up as an emerging talent, and she quickly soaked up invaluable bandstand experience in talent-laden ensembles like the Ralph Peterson Septet, the T.S. Monk Septet, the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra, the Rufus Reid Septet, the Sean Jones Quintet, and the Nancy Wilson Jazz Orchestra.
Fuller traveled the world several times over as part of Beyoncé’s all-female band on the I AM… and The Beyoncé Experience tours, and she spent most of last year touring with Esperanza Spalding as leader of the Radio Music Society horn section. At the same time, she’s established herself as a bandleader with a series of stellar albums for Mack Avenue, starting with 2007’s Healing Space. Last year, she delivered her most confident session yet, Angelic Warrior, featuring her working band with her older sister, pianist/keyboardist Shamie Royston, bassist Mimi Jones, and drummer (and brother-in-law) Rudy Royston. Her success could be seen as a cautionary tale about attaining what you strive for, though she isn’t one to complain.
“I don’t get home often,” Fuller says. “Last year I spent only 36 days sleeping in my bed. That’s something I’m working on, being home more. When I’m home for more than two or three days I’m so happy. But this is what I prayed for early on. I feel very blessed.”
Even when she’s not spending much time at home, she’s never far from family. From the beginning, Fuller built her band around her sister, a highly accomplished pianist with whom she’s performed since they were teens. While still best known for her work with her sister, Shamie Royston released an impressive, self-produced debut album last year Portraits, a highly engaging trio session displaying her ringing sound and supreme command of dynamics.
Closely bonded on and off the bandstand, the sisters have thrived in a family band where “we know each other’s musical personalities,” Tia Fuller says. “When we’re traveling, I know they have my back as I have theirs. It’s really comforting. We rarely have any issues, but when we do we just talk them out. I cherish it every moment. Not everybody is able to experience that.”
The Fuller sisters grew up in the Denver area where both parents were deeply involved in music. Their father Fred is a bassist and educator, and their mother Elthopia is a singer. Musicians filled the family home and the girls grew up listening to rehearsals. Tia started studying piano at three, inspired by her older sister. By nine she was exploring the flute, and by her first year of high school she had found her way to jazz and added saxophone to her studies (while dropping piano).
“My parents are both retired educators and they put a high value not only on musicianship but education too,” Fuller says. “My mother went in as drama teacher, and made sure we spoke correctly. She was always helping us write papers. My dad was too, but he balanced it out with sports as a physical education teacher, and fixing things in the house. Now I have my own tool set with a wrench and washers.”
Fuller started to develop an independent musical identity when she left town to study at Spelman College in Atlanta, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude in music. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in jazz pedagogy and performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which put her back in thick of region’s tight-knit jazz community.
“I was definitely part of the scene in Colorado,” Fuller says. “Having grown up among parents who are jazz musicians. I was always known as Fred Fuller’s daughter. I didn’t establish my own identity until I left Colorado and went to college in Atlanta. But moving to New York is when I really started to come into my own.” And with each new album, Fuller reveals more of her capacious creative gift.
Sponsored by Joan Talbert & David Lyon.