Joy of Jazz: Spotlight on Tia Fuller

She's an inspiration to female musicians around the world. Tia Fuller is among the growing number of women musicians who are attracted to the saxophone as their instrument of choice.

This dynamic American performer, who is also a composer and educator and who was part of Beyonce's world tour, has turned the sax into a part of her very being.

One critic wrote: "When Tia Fuller picks up her sax to play the two become one and something amazing happens as the notes and reverberations of her musical elixir fill the room. Suddenly, everything in the universe feels right and it's easy to see and hear why she was selected to be a member of the all-female band touring with Beyoncé."

Fuller, who has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, (Magna Cum Laude) and a Master's degree in Jazz Pedagogy and Performance from the University of Colorado at Boulder (Summa Cum Laude), is paying her first visit to Johannesburg for the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz.

Her concerts, she says, will be "lively and exciting" and she will be performing tracks from her new CD Angelic Warriors with her regular group which seems to be a family affair. It comprises her sister Shamie Royston on piano, her brother-in-law Rudy Royston on drums and Mimi Jones on acoustic bass.

In all, Fuller has recorded four CDs with her quartet, the first being Pillar of Strength in 2005, then came Healing Space two years later and Decisive Steps in 2010.

With Angelic Warrior, Fuller has again created new compositions but she also believes it's important to rework standards by introducing something creative and fresh to them.

Having grown up around music – her mom is a jazz vocalist and her dad a jazz bassist – has meant a natural progression for her. When she was three she began playing the piano, at nine she studied flute and at 13 she progressed to the saxophone. She grew up listening to her parents rehearse in the basement of their home, as well as to music of jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughn and Charlie Parker.

"I definitely knew music would be a large part of my life. I was a senior at high school when I decided to do music professionally."

She explains what attracted her to the sax: "Initially I was playing the flute and my grandfather introduced me to the saxophone and I remember blowing through it and I saw the connection. It felt like my voice."

Touring with superstar Beyoncé, she says, taught her a lot about the music business and how to conduct herself as a band leader as well as a performer.

Going on her own was a major career decision.

I remember being on a tour bus and I had a lot of dates coming up with my quartet. I remember thinking this is not what I'm supposed to do and this is not the end for me. It was my duty and obligation to really take everything that I had learnt with Beyoncé and incorporate it into my own band. When Beyoncé called back to go with her on tour I declined as I had so many dates with my quartet. It was kind of empowering and also comforting to know that I'd had that experience and it's really a blessing."

She firmly believes in women empowerment: "Where would I be without creating opportunities for myself and putting myself out there?"

After her Johannesburg gigs she returns to a full-time touring schedule in America and Europe. In September Fuller begins teaching again at Berklee College of Music in Boston. She is passionate about teaching and inspiring students and it's in her genes, she contends, because her parents were educators and administrators in Denver.

Asked about her advice to women wanting to become musicians, Fuller says: "Tell them to stick fast to their vision and don't let anyone, or any circumstances, change that."

Tia Fuller performs at The Market Theatre on Friday, August 23 and Saturday, August 24 as part of as part of Standard Bank Joy of Jazz which runs on nine stages in the Newtown precinct from August 22 to 24.

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Peter Feldman
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