she steps out of the wings and into the lights you can’t
help but stare. Seconds later, you’re whirling through space
on sinewy, brash and thoroughly modern jazz that dissolves any
consideration of gender. That’s how consummate and formidable
is Tia Fuller, one of the few female American jazz saxophone players
who can play with the best of them. This rara avis makes
men seriously contemplate putting themselves on estrogen.
accomplishment category, Fuller is to jazz what Serena Williams
is to tennis. That she is still a rather well kept secret is often
the fate of exceptional musicians who are fatally attracted to
a genre that, from its outset a century or so ago, has always
played second fiddle to popular music. But jazz has never been
about chart busting or filling stadiums. Its natural environment
is the club scene where to leave and return is to know the place
for the very first time.
quickly learned to exploit limited opportunities for self-expression
as well as to shape and contour a note while working with Beyoncé
for half a decade. In between time, she continued to hone her
craft and teach, and has collaborated with Esperanza Spalding
and other notables. Her most recent and well received album, Angelic
Warrior, was a festival highlight for those who attended
her rousing and defiant 2013 Montreal
International Jazz Festival
her snappy, articulate phrasing to delectably varied rhythms within
a phrase, and the care she takes in creatively connecting her
phrases, Fuller is in control of a fully realized sound that speaks
to her principles and sense of mission in a world that typically
rewards the last performer standing. If it is the challenge of
every musician to find her or himself in her music, Fuller isn’t
shy about revealing the complex person that she is, and refuses
to edit out the wide spectrum of moods that moves her.
and without apology to gender or states of mind that intrude on
her soft look, she can be angry, peeved and uncompromising in
her rejection of sweet melody, and she certainly doesn’t
play to what audiences expect of women in the appearance category
-- a male generated expectation that leaves today’s dangerously
under-dressed pop divas with few options and cold hands.
blows her own horn, and routinely wows audiences with her song
crafting and arresting improvisations. When the mood strikes or
strikes out, she can purr a child to sleep with breezy Rio intonations
or erupt into thunder and lightening on steroids in her unbowlderized
“paraphrase of the world.” Fuller punctuates her solos
with clusters of notes that are like windows that open and shut
down on feelings that are perfectly matched to the volatility
and frenzied dynamic of the big city.
spirit of the age, Fuller is thoroughly post-modern, an electric
glide in metropolitan blue, a mix of debonair, daring and defiance;
an angelic warrior in the true sense of the word, fighting for
her gender, for a palace in the sun, and not afraid to take chances,
which don’t always work. Lacking the pipes, her rendition
of “Body & Soul,” clipping the Nate King Cole
song, was instantly ‘forgettable,’ a small misstep
in a continuum of success.
is a mood and message that remain constant from one concert to
the next it is “Yes we can.” But not like the initial
promise that went up in smoke and mirrors. In recognition of her
ability and tenacity, and the respect accorded by her peers, Fuller
is a role model and inspiration both in out of the jazz.
a hard scrabble world out there and hers is a hard scrabble band,
ready to stare down the eye of any storm. When she plays her music
speaks, and for that -- audiences are all the wiser, just as jazz
is all the richer for having the licks of its angelic warrior
in its mix.