Composer, arranger, and bandleader Tia Fuller wears a total of six hats in her career in traditional jazz, because she's also an alto saxophonist, a soprano saxophonist, and a flautist. Fuller is surely one of the hottest young lionesses to come along in traditional jazz in the last decade. Based in Jersey City, NJ, she has two albums out under her own name, both for the Mack Avenue Jazz label. Aside from being a major talent who's on the bill at prestigious jazz festivals, she's as academically gifted as she is a talented musician.
Fuller's jazz-based outlook on life is the result of her arts-filled childhood. She was raised by two teachers from the Denver public school district. She credits her parents, Fred, a bassist, and Elthopia, a singer, with giving her a thorough grounding in jazz from a young age. While growing up, she listened to music by Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane, and began her music studies by taking classical piano lessons at age three. She studied piano for ten years but began playing flute as a nine-year-old, and the saxophone shortly thereafter, while still in middle school.
By 1998, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Spelman College in Atlanta, where she studied with saxophonist Joe Jennings, earning her B.A. in Music. She later graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a Master's in Music, Jazz Pedagogy, and Performance in 2000.
Like all good jazz musicians who insist on continually challenging themselves, she moved to Jersey City, five miles from the jazz capital of the world, Manhattan. Her timing was not the most fortuitous; she arrived in Jersey City on September 9, 2001, two days before Lower Manhattan's World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists. She made the best of those bleak, depressing weeks, however, and as jazz clubs slowly began to fill up again by early November of that year, she found herself sitting in at various nightclubs around Manhattan. Fuller played and recorded with some of jazz's well-known fixtures, including the Duke Ellington Big Band, T.S. Monk, Don Byron, Wycliffe Gordon, Mickey Roker, Ralph Peterson, Jon Faddis, Rufus Reid, Jimmy Heath, Gerald Wilson, Charlie Persip, Don Braden, and Nancy Wilson.
After several years of playing clubs like Birdland in Manhattan with her own bands, in mid-June, 2006 she was hired by the singer Beyoncé to join her touring band. Since then, Fuller has accompanied Beyoncé on several U.S. and European tours. Being on the road has taught Fuller to more completely appreciate the artistry and freedom jazz musicians have. She's also learned to appreciate her audiences, whether an arena of 16,000 with Beyoncé or an intimate audience of 60 in one of northern New Jersey's smaller jazz clubs. When not on the road or leading her own group, Fuller conducts clinics and master classes at middle schools, high schools, and colleges. She's conducted these classes at the Jazz Institute of New Jersey, Aurora, Colorado Public Schools, the Mile High Jazz Camp, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Stanford Jazz Workshop, Drexel University, Montclair State University, and New Mexico State University.
In 2005, Fuller released her first album ever with Pillar of Strength. Her indie release caught the attention of executives at Mack Avenue Records, who then signed her. Her debut for Mack Avenue Records, Healing Space, was released in 2007. Decisive Steps, released in the spring of 2010, is Fuller's sophomore release for Mack Avenue Records. She's accompanied by drummer Kim Thompson, bassist Miriam Sullivan, her sister, Shamie Royston on piano and keyboards, and special guests, bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Sean Jones, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. She celebrated with a series of record release parties in West Orange, Newark, and Trenton, NJ, as well as back home in Denver and at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at New York's Jazz at Lincoln Center.
On Decisive Steps, Fuller and company breathe new life into two standards, "I Can't Get Started," and "My Shining Hour," and bassist Christian McBride adds a new dimension to "I Can't Get Started." ~ Richard J. Skelly