Saxophonist Tia Fuller set for date at 2013 Edinburgh Jazz Festival
Jazz sax warrior on roots, discipline and touring with Beyoncé,
This article is from 2013.
Tia Fuller has gone from learning saxophone in her attic to sharing the world stage with Beyoncé. Miles Fielder chats to this jazz warrior about getting the balance right
On the opening night of the 35th Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, Tia Fuller aims to blow the roof off the Queen’s Hall. Best known outside jazz circles for touring the world with Beyoncé Knowles’ troupe, the young American has made a name for herself inside the jazz world as a turbo-charged, bop-based sax player, composer, bandleader and educator. For this Scottish debut, Fuller’s band will be showcasing compositions from her latest album, Angelic Warrior.
‘I’ll be performing it with the core rhythm section from the album,’ says Fuller, who’s just finished a photo call for the festival. ‘Angelic Warrior is about balancing my life. With the Beyoncé thing and making my own music, it all meant my blood pressure was going up. I realised I had to embrace the meditative and peaceful angel, as well as the warrior, which is how I usually function.’
Born in Aurora, Colorado, to jazz musicians Fred and Elthopia, Tia Fuller grew up listening to her father’s bass playing and her mother’s singing while she greedily consumed their record collection of Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane.
Inspired by her older sister, Shamie, Fuller began playing classical piano at the age of three, moved on to flute and finally picked up the saxophone at high school. Later studying the horn at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, Fuller honed her talent in jazz clubs where she got to play with the state’s most famous son, Ray Charles.
‘When I was eight or nine, I used to sit in bed listening to my parents rehearsing in the basement and singing along,’ says Fuller. ‘That was what connected me to the saxophone: singing and blowing are very similar. My grandfather gave me a horn and I tried it up in the attic. It resonated throughout the house and my body and I thought, “this is it!”’
Two days before the events of September 11, 2001, Fuller moved to New Jersey with the aim of making it on New York’s jazz scene. Despite the jazz community being pessimistic about the availability of work in the aftermath of 9/11, Fuller still secured her first gig, at a South Jersey fish fry. ‘Humble beginnings keep you grounded,’ she insists.
From there she swiftly made a big impression on East Coast luminaries and by 2007 Fuller had established herself as a young turk on the Big Apple’s jazz scene. Securing a place with Beyoncé’s band, however, took her career to a whole new level, the 100 date-plus world tours over the last five years bringing her international recognition in the world of pop, soul and R&B.
‘The perception of me playing with an artist like that is just enormous,’ Fuller says. ‘It really heightened my visibility. I learned that it’s important to maintain a good image and reputation. I saw the extremely high level of Beyoncé’s work ethic. People want to hear the struggle and the passion: that’s something she has. And in fact, all great artists, both jazz and non-jazz, have it. I also learned,’ Fuller says with a laugh, ‘how to dance in heels.’
Tia Fuller, Queen’s Hall, Clerk Street, 0131 668 2019, 19 Jul, 8pm, £20 (£15).