Grammy-Nominated Saxophonist Tia Fuller Performs with Academy Jazz Band

Tia Fuller has toured with Beyoncé and performed for Barack Obama.

Holding her soprano saxophone in her hands, Tia Fuller’s fingers danced around the keys as she played a twisting scale filled with melodic notes, one of her many improvisations in her composition “Kissed by the Sun.” The Academy Jazz Band accompanied her in the background; a blend of saxophones, brass instruments, and percussion mixing in to harmonize with the improvisational melody.

The 2018-2019 Thomas D. Chapin Guest Artists, Tia Fuller and the Rainbow Band All-Stars, performed with the Academy Jazz Band and Ensemble this past Sunday afternoon. The Academy Jazz Band performed its own set before joining with Fuller on two pieces. Fuller and her ensemble then showcased a select few pieces from her latest album, “Diamond Cut.”

Christopher Gagne, Instructor in Music and Director of the Academy Jazz Band, said, “It’s a split program between us and Tia… [we were] just trying to do a balance of material. We did some older stuff… the last two were more contemporary; [we were] bouncing between the old and the new. The same thing happens with the [pieces with Fuller] as well, since the first tune’s a very new tune and the second one is a classic jazz piece.”

Fuller has received much recognition for her work in jazz. Her album, “Diamond Cut,” was nominated in 2019 for the Grammy Awards in the category “Best Jazz Instrumental Album,” becoming the second solo female artist to do so. In addition to her Grammy nomination, Fuller has toured and performed with Beyoncé, including a performance for former President Barack Obama at the White House.

Band member Harry Chanpaiboonrat ’21 said, “It was really cool to play with someone that experienced and good at her instrument. Her [improvisation] skills are off the charts. During the concert, she improvised for three minutes straight on one song, and she can just come up with more creative stuff every second.”

In addition to Sunday’s performance, Fuller and the Rainbow Band All-Stars visited campus on Saturday to work with the Academy Jazz Band on their joint pieces. Fuller also provided valuable advice on playing methods, according to band member Leo Deng ’21.

“She taught us breathing techniques, how to sound better, just essentials for playing saxophone… For breathing and trying to get as much sound efficiently out of your sax, she told us to think of the vowel ‘a,’ and for the trumpets and trombones, it’s ‘o,'” said Deng.

Most of Fuller’s advice to the band was based on emotions. When playing, instead of sticking to the written notes on the page, Fuller encouraged the musicians to play what they felt like playing, and to rely more on their heart than their brain.

“I was really laying into them yesterday as to how to go about playing and I heard the drummer, [Brandon Chandler ’20], really come alive in this certain section. I heard the [saxophones] doing certain things that I had told them to. When all of that came together, that was my favorite part, just hearing them. The lightbulb clicked on and I heard it; I felt it,” said Fuller.

Gagne said, “She has a totally different approach, much more about emotion and intention, and I think it was really cool, and [the music] kind of opened up again. She got a totally different performance out of them… She was much more connected to the spirit of the music, as opposed to just the notes on paper.”

During “I Loved You,” one of Fuller’s compositions, she took an interactive approach with the audience, calling for them to sing in a call-response manner, using scat syllables to fit in the with the contemporary jazz feel.

Fuller said, “I always like to engage the audience because we’re playing instrumental music; sometimes [meaning] can get lost in translation, depending on the audience. [We wanted] to get people to feel, to be a part of the performance, and be more engaged in the performance.”