Tia Fuller: Stepping Forward Decisively
Says Fuller, "I wrote specifically for this album in mind ... The past couple albums I've typically written for those specific albums so that I can deal with a concept and everything is kind of related to each other. It's more or less like a disjointed story. A story, nonetheless, that captures the wholeness of taking decisive steps in some way. I was trying, in putting the sequence together, to offer many different tempos and styles within the genre of jazz. But sometimes extending beyond it. Like with "Ebb & Flow," it's more like a funk deal. It's still jazz, but it has more of a groove."
McBride, a giant of his instrument, thumps a funky electric bass on "Ebb & Flow" and his signature acoustic work provides the appropriate dashes to the aptly named "Shades of McBride." The latter also has a fine vibe solo by guest artist Warren Wolf.
"This is one of the first times I've played with him," Fuller says of McBride. "It was amazing. He's such a strong player that just he came in and, upon looking at the music the first day, played it exactly how I heard it in my head. That was definitely a blessing."
Fuller is happy with the response she's received for the new recording. "I do feel it is a representation of who I am and where I am today," she says. "I'm in a place of being more comfortable with who I am as a musician and as a woman, as a black woman. I think this just comes with life."
The band is already touring in support of the new music and will continue to do so this year. The album shows a musician maturing, with a strong concept and a full, supple alto sax sound. She can negotiate any style and any feel, as her recordings show. Her association with Beyoncé also displays that she can adapt and contribute strong musical statements in a different setting.
Fuller had to audition in 2006 to get the job in Beyoncé's band, a process that started with 5,000 women nationwide, was trimmed to 200, and then 50 before the 10-member band was finalized. (Her drummer Thompson also made the band). But Fuller didn't just use the gig as a chance to pick up a bigger pay check and get a taste of that popular world. The Beyoncé band is part of her musical palette and, like everything, Fuller finds a way to use that life experience as a learning experience.
"I learned a lot about myself and my function as a band member. Also as a leader," says Fuller. "I learned a lot just watching the hard work ethic she has. And how not to be afraid to push the people that are working for you, be it the band or the video crew, to push them to the level of greatness that you want them to be at. So the product overall will be that much better ... I was placed in this position of being able to play with Beyoncé so that I can merge the two worlds of pop and jazz, the two industries, per se, with what I'm doing with my individual album. I'm just trying to work on that. The approach to take. Still staying in the root of jazz, but maybe incorporating certain things that I've learned with Beyoncé.
"It's made me realize that anything is possible. I never would have thought of playing with Beyoncé, but I knew that I wanted to travel the world. I knew I wasn't just going to play jazz. But it's shown me that anything, pretty much, is possible. If there are ways to do certain things, if you have the right resources and connections ... (big names) have the support of different endorsers, different sponsors. People who are willing to put money into them so that they can travel comfortably. It's all about knowing people, having a vision of where you want to go, and trying to attract those things to you."
Fuller seems always willing to learn, perhaps because education, as well as music, has always been part of her life.
Fuller was a young child when she was hearing the sounds of Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster and Ella Fitzgerald around her home. Her father, Fred, was a bassist and her mother, Elthopia, sang. They were educators, but also had a band called Fuller Sound that played gigs.
"My parents had exposed us both my sister and I to playing piano," she recalls. "I started at 3. She started at 6 or 7. Then they exposed us to instruments and different art forms. I started playing flute when I was 9 and saxophone when I was 13. But when I was 13, I was also doing other things. I was in gymnastics and dance and an acting troupe. They allowed us to come into our own as far as what we wanted to do, although it was pretty much certain that I was playing piano from 3 until I was 13. After that I was able to choose the direction that I wanted to go ... I'm really thankful to my parents for that. Never did they force me to play."