Teacher, Jazz Artist Draws Inspiration From Family Tia Fuller composes for both saxophone and flute. She says her latest album, Healing Space, is a manifestation of her spirituality. It's also a testament to the bonds of a musical family.

Teacher, Jazz Artist Draws Inspiration From Family

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Tia Fuller is a jazz composer and a player. Saxophone and flute are her instruments, and her new CD bursts to life with this tune, "Breakthrough."

(Soundbite of song, "Breakthrough")

HANSEN: Fuller was inspired by her pastor. When everything seems to be coming against you and you break through to a higher-level existence, he said, once you reach the next level, it's like a new life. "Healing Space" is the name of her new disk, and Tia Fuller joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program, Tia.

Ms. TIA FULLER (Jazz Musician and Composer): Thank you so much.

HANSEN: You know, the title, "Healing Space," one would think you'd get this kind of soothing, meditative sound, but there's a lot of energy in this recording. So is that kind of a manifestation of your own spirituality, you're soothing, meditative, but a tremendous amount of energy?

Ms. FULLER: Very much so. Anyone that knows me knows that I have a lot of energy. The entire album encompasses my spirituality.

HANSEN: Is this something that is homegrown, that you get from your family?

Ms. FULLER: Definitely. It's something - I grew up in a Christian household. My entire family, actually, they always focused on just being a good person, giving thanks to whomever your creator is and just living a good, positive life.

HANSEN: Your family is also musical, so not only was spirituality something in your home, music was certainly a part of your home. It was a family affair, wasn't it?

Ms. FULLER: Very much so. Yes. When - my mother, Althopia Fuller(ph), she's a vocalist, and my father, Fred Fuller(ph), is a bassist, and they started a band, Fuller Sound. It was my older sister, Shamie Fuller-Royston. She started playing piano with them, and then I started playing saxophone around 19 - I was about 19 or 20.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: When did you become a composer?

Ms. FULLER: I'd have to say it was my freshman year in college that I wrote my first composition.

HANSEN: Is it true the first tune you ever wrote took two years?

Ms. FULLER: Yes, it did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Are things getting easier? Most of the compositions on this CD are yours.

Ms. FULLER: Oh, I don't know if they're getting easier. I think I'm just being more honest and trusting within the spirit that speaks to me and being able to honor that within myself. So that part is getting easier in that I'm able to tap into that and not analyze it, but just move forward with the intuitiveness of what I hear in my head.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: In one interview, you actually described how important it is to transcribe solos as part of a practice session. Does this mean that you listened to famous saxophone solos and then learned how to imitate them?

Ms. FULLER: Yes. Being able to sit down and - I don't even want to say emulate, but internalize; that's something that has always been stressed throughout my education.

HANSEN: Is there a particular solo you remember, a Cannonball Adderley or something...

Ms. FULLER: Yeah.


Ms. FULLER: Definitely. The first solo that I ever transcribed was Cannonball Adderley, and it was "Stars Fell on Alabama."

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FULLER: And I remember I was a freshman in college, at Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and my teacher, Joe Jennings(ph) at the time, he had me learn that solo, and I remember sitting in the practice room, it must've been about 11 at night, and just trying to work that solo out, and something that I believe it was Jeff Clayton(ph) taught me - I was a part of the bell jazz party that happens every summer, about 10 years ago - but one thing that he said is that you learn material so that you can forget it, and so that when you get on the bandstand or that you get into the recording studio, you're able to naturally tap into that, whatever material that is, but not consciously thinking about it, allowing your subconscious to take over.

And that's a beautiful process, because you know something to the point at which you don't need to think about it consciously, but it's within you. So that's where the spirit takes over.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. FULLER: It looks like you're all having a good time tonight.

HANSEN: You actually have a pretty glamorous gig. You're playing with Beyonce Knowles.

Ms. FULLER: Yeah.

HANSEN: Her R&B band, all female. Anyone ever ask you how you get a gig with Beyonce?

Ms. FULLER: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: And you said practice, practice, practice, right?

Ms. FULLER: I said you just have to pay them off, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FULLER: I'm just playing. There was actually a strenuous audition process that took place, and it was the same week that I was rehearsing and recording for "Healing Space." But she had auditions in Atlanta, Houston, Boston, New York and L.A. Probably about 5,000 girls - or women had tried out, and after two callbacks, she chose me as her alto-saxophonist as well as nine other girls. She couldn't have chose a better group of women who are musicians, and so many of us contribute differently to the music that it's amazing what we come up with at the end of the day.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: What does this mean to you to be with groups like this? Your quartet you tour with, all female?

Ms. FULLER: Yes.

HANSEN: You played with all-woman big band Diva.

Ms. FULLER: Uh-huh.

HANSEN: You surround yourself with women. Is there a reason?

Ms. FULLER: Actually, I play with women, but I also try to establish a balance and play with men as well, but in playing with all of the women groups, there's a special connection that you have with a woman that's up on stage with you that is different. I don't want to say that it's better or worse, but it's just different than when you're up there with a predominantly male group.

And I've always had this concept of - it's that internal connection of - all women, of course, are given the gift to give life. It's something that we tap into intuitively because that gift has been given to us, so when we're on the stage, like even with Beyonce's group, with the all-female group, or with my group, it's something that you feel that's a common thread amongst us all that I really can't articulate. I don't know what it is. It's a spirit that we all share.

HANSEN: You're an educator. You give lectures. You give clinics. What do your students, your audiences, what do they want to hear you talk about?

Ms. FULLER: Sometimes I give lectures on the saxophone, like a master class. I've done - I did a lecture actually last year at Kansas State University, and it was on the mind, body and spirit of jazz improvisation.

One thing about education is that both of my parents are educators. They were principals and teachers in the Denver Public School District in Colorado, and that was something that was ingrained in me from a very early age, that you have to really honor your education.

And sometimes it's more enjoyable than just playing, for me, because to sit in a classroom or to sit in a lecture and to see somebody's light bulb go on and say, oh, or for someone to come back to me and say, oh, Tia, I remember when you told me about this or this, to see that you're able to influence, directly influence, students through your music and the gifts that have been given is truly a blessing.

HANSEN: Tia Fuller, her new CD is called "Healing Space," and she joined us from our New York bureau. Thanks, and much luck with this.

Ms. FULLER: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You can hear full selections from Tia Fuller's new CD on our Web site, npr.org.

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