Saturday, April 21, 2012

StLJN Saturday Video Showcase:
Introducing Tia Fuller

This week, let's check out some video clips of saxophonist Tia Fuller, who will be making her St. Louis debut as a bandleader with gigs next Wednesday, April 25 through Saturday, April 28 at Jazz at the Bistro.

Fuller, 36, may be best known to the general public for spending several years as a member of the all-female band backing pop singer Beyonce, but she's also been leading her own jazz groups for several years and has three CDs as a leader out on the Mack Avenue label. A native of Denver, Fuller grew up in a musical family and played piano and flute before taking up saxophone as a teenager. She earned a bachelor's degree in music from Spelman College and a masters in jazz pedagogy from the University of Colorado at Boulder before moving to NYC in 2001.

In addition to her own groups, Fuller has performed with Charles Fambrough, Mickey Roker, Ralph Peterson, T.S. Monk, Rufus Reid, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and others. Eagle-eyed late-night TV viewers also may have noticed her as part of the band with bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding during Spalding's appearance last month on Late Night with David Letterman, and Fuller has said that she plans to tour with Spalding later this year.

As a saxophonist and composer, Fuller seems to use hard bop as a jumping-off point - I'd bet someone a Coke that there were some Cannonball Adderley records around the house during her childhood - but there's also some post-Coltrane stuff in her playing, as she can be heard using the "sheets of sound" technique and/or overblowing to add another level of intensity to her solos. Her tone has bit of tartness to it that helps it cut through the denser ensemble passages, but stops well short of pushing the boundaries of conventional tuning ala Jackie McLean.

You can hear some of that intensity in the first video clip up above, an excerpt from her performance for the 2011 NYC Winter Jazzfest at Le Poisson Rouge. Fuller's band here is something of a family affair, with her older sister Shamie Royston on piano; brother-in-law Rudy Royston on drums; and longtime collaborator Mimi Jones (aka Miriam Sullivan) on bass.

Down below is an excerpt from another 2011 performance, at the University of California-Davis with pianist Rachel Eckroth subbing for Shamie Royston. Below that is a clip from Fuller's set at the 2010 Jazz Journalists Awards ceremony, with St. Louis native and fellow Beyonce sidewoman Kim Thompson on drums.

Next are are two songs from Fuller's performance at the 2010 Detroit Jazz Festival, the standard "I Can't Get Started" and her own composition "Shades of McBride." The video was shot by an audience member, and while the image is a bit dark due to the shadows from the bandstand, the audio quality actually is pretty good. Finally, there's a short interview Fuller did in 2009 for a news program on Detroit's Fox affiliate, in which she chats for a couple of minutes and then plays the Charlie Parker blues "Billie's Bounce" with pianist Mike Jellick.

For more about Tia Fuller, check out her January 2012 interview with The Revivalist and this interview with Atlantic City Weekly from August 2011.

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