Alto/soprano saxophonist/flutist/educator Tia Fuller is enjoying the best of two musical worlds. The Colorado-born, New Jersey-based, Spelman alum is a five-year member of Beyonce’s all-female band, and she’s one of the most gifted jazz musicians of her generation. On her new CD, Angelic Warrior – featuring special guests, vocalist (and Denver native) Dianne Reeves, bassist John Patitucci and Grammy Award winner, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington – Fuller’s serpentine-fired sax/flute lines swoons and swings on thirteen tracks of originals and standards designed to dance and trance. She’s also touring with Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society band.
EBONY talked to Fuller about the benefits of working with Beyonce, her growth as a producer, the artistic metaphysics of her new recording, and her amazing and jazzy sisterfriends.
EBONY: You’re a jazz musician who works in the pop world. How does your gig with Beyonce influence you as an artist, and as the producer of your new CD?
TIA FULLER: One of the main things I learned from watching her work – as a performing artist and a musician – is that she’s very, very meticulous in the studio, and is not afraid to strive for perfection. For example: she was doing a track for the Grammys. And we spent about eight hours on eight bars, because there was a specific thing that she wanted. And she was never afraid to change and [to] allow the artistic process to evolve in the studio.
She takes the time to do what it is she needs to do to perfect the track. So that really taught me about paying attention to the minutiae in the studio, and not being afraid to really move forward and elevate that level of perfection.
EBONY: So her attention to detail influenced your producing skills?
TF: Yeah, definitely. This is the first time that I really went in-depth in the editing process: editing, mixing and mastering. And with the complicated music that I wrote, I had two bass players sometimes with two basslines playing the same line … I was really delving deep into that [process].
EBONY: On Angelic Warrior you mix different strands of songs into one composition. On “Ralphie’s Groove,” your tribute to the great drummer Ralph Peterson, you combined Ahmad Jamal’s “Poinciana,” and Tony Williams’ “Sister Cheryl,” and drummer Teri Lyne Carrington blends Cole Porter’s “All of You” and “So in Love” into a new song. Robert Glasper said that jazz musicians are the first remixers. Do you agree?
TF: Yeah. That’s funny [laughs]. I never thought of it like that. I’m in complete agreement with us being the first remixers. Were the first in a lot of things. And the opposite side of that is, a lot of the hip-hop generation has used jazz as the foundation of their remixes. A Tribe Called Quest used one of [bassist] Ron Carter’s tunes and Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay.”
EBONY: What you and your Colorado home-girl Dianne Reeves did to the jazz standard “Body & Soul” on the CD aurally illustrates how jazz musicians can “remix” and reimagine a tune in an entirely different light.
TF: I love to play it in honor of my mom and dad. But I wanted to put a different twist to it.
And why not make a more, R&B/version that the urban public can grasp on to? That was the direction I wanted to go in. And then having Dianne Reeves sing the vocals brings it back home to the vocal element of jazz.
EBONY: I understand that you’re about to drop a new remixed single of the CD version of “Body &Soul.”
TF: It’s in the hands of the remixer. I gave him one of several references: one was of a Jill Scott-vibe. And another reference was of a house remix. And so we’re going to see if they can meld the two together. It’s going to be more of a radio version.
EBONY: Your reconstruction of the bebop classic “Cherokee” has a house music-meets-samba-meets-FAMU marching band swing to it.
TF: [Laughs] I have such an infatuation with the drums. I wanted to do something that featured two drummers. Initially, it was supposed to be myself, [drummer and brother-in-law] Rudy Royston, and Terri Lyne Carrington – drums and saxophone. But then, Terri Lyne brought in a jungle beat/house track with a loop. So when she put that on I was like, oh man: we can have two drummers, with that drum track holding it down. That really brought a sense of energy and synergy that I wanted to celebrate on this version of “Cherokee.”
EBONY: I just saw you in performance at the Congressional Black Caucus Jazz Concert last month, performing music from Terri Lyne Carrington’s forthcoming CD, Money Jungle Project. And in addition to working with Beyonce and Carrington, you’re also working with Esperanza Spalding as the assistant musical director on her Radio Music Society tour.
TF: It so amazing how God works, in the sense of putting certain things out in the universe, and then you attracting those things. “Tailor Made” is a funk track on my CD that I wrote that was inspired by Esperanza’s song “Winter Sun,” from her CD, Classical Music Society. But I didn’t work with her until months after I recorded this CD. We got close after I wrote that song. On that song, I wanted to really celebrate her.
I see similarities between her and Beyonce: Esperanza is always working on something. She’s constantly practicing – even when everybody else is eating dinner before the show – she’s practicing…She’s a musician: she leads her own band. And she knows exactly want she wants, as a performer. And is not afraid to take the time to get what she wants to follow in her vision. Working with her is a blessing, because in a lot of respects, we’re very similar. We’re having a good time playing on her tour. Hopefully, she’ll be able to do a couple of gigs with my band.
EBONY: You, Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lyne Carrington are three prime examples of a not-so-quite-storm of female jazz musicians who are in the forefront of the music in the twenty first century: women who are taken seriously by their male counterparts. Call it a movement or a happening, but what is like being in the vanguard?
TF: There is a movement going on with women in music. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to tour with Beyonce’s all-female band, with Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza, and my own project. There’s definitely some happening in the music industry, in celebration of all of the women that are contributing to the music now, and who’ve laid the foundation for us in the past.
We’ve always been there, in the grassroots of this jazz music. Women like [Louis Armstong’s wife] Lil Hardin Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, who taught Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk…we've always been there. Now there’s a resurgence of that with people like Terri Lyne, Esperanza and myself. We’re out there!