Professor at Berklee College of Music and Grammy-nominated saxophonist, Tia Fuller is more than a composer and educator. She recently added a venture to her list of accomplishments. We heard her in Pixar’s blockbuster film, SOUL recently. Fuller was behind the music of the character Dorothea Williams – the sassy saxophonist in the hit film. In awe of her talent and sound, we wanted to catch up with her to discuss her experience working on the project, collaborating with music icon, Beyoncé, and new ventures to come.

How was your overall experience as the sound behind the music of the animated character, Dorothea Williams on Pixar’s Soul?

My overall experience as the music behind Dorothea Williams character is a complete blessing. Just to be a part of a Pixar film is extraordinary, but to be the image and music behind such a powerful animated character is transformational on a social, historical and cultural level. For young boys and girls to now have an ‘elevated’ imprint of inclusivity and know that it is not taboo to see a woman playing a saxophone or a trombone is priceless. It’s encouraging that we as a society are deconstructing the highly patriarchal image of jazz. Women have been written out of that HIStory, but have always been a part of the building blocks and birthright of this music.   

I am so thankful to be given the opportunity to be a voice and image to bring jazz to the forefront of the world of animation and beyond. Additionally, the narrative of finding your ‘spark’ or ‘purpose’ in Soul is one that directly correlates with my life as a performer and educator. I am on a journey to be a selfless vessel and light for others.

photo courtesy of Tia Fuller

You came from a family of musicians, was becoming a saxophonist something, you always knew you were destined to do?

Coming from a musical family, I was exposed to jazz at a very early age. During the weekend, there would be jazz playing on every floor of our three-level house, in Aurora, Co. Although I start playing piano at the age of 3, it was around age 10 where I became enamored with the saxophone and its sound. At age 11, I will never forget the feeling of empowerment that overwhelmed me after blowing into the saxophone for the first time. I knew it was something that I wanted to continue to connect with and I later made a deliberate choice to pursue it. I was destined to be a saxophonist, maybe, but it has been vision, perseverance and optimism that has enabled the sustainability of this journey.

We know that you were a part of Beyoncé’s all-female band and performed on tour with her for I AM… Sasha Fierce and the Beyoncé Experience World Tour – how would you describe that overall experience?

Being a part of Beyonce’s All-Female band (from 2006 to 2010) completely expanded my vision of what is possible as an artist. That experience provided first-hand knowledge as to how to successfully function and thrive as a musician, businesswoman, bandleader and ultimate visionary. From watching Beyonce create her set-list and shows, advise her crew, see her function in a video/photoshoot to learning how to do my own hair and make-up on tour — all of these experiences primed me for a high standard of excellence as an individual recording artist and performer. I am so thankful.

Tell us about The Sax Loft.

The Sax Loft is a subscription-based educational website for all levels of saxophonists. It’s led by Jeff Coffin (saxophonist with Dave Matthews), the legendary Kirk Whalum, the Boston Sax Shop and myself. Sax Loft members will have access to hundreds of video lessons, a guided curriculum, pdfs, and monthly Zoom chats with the Sax Loft team and guest sax gurus. Click here for more information.

What can we expect to see from you in 2021?

In 2021, I am writing for my new ‘funk-oriented’ album that features many guest artists. 

I am also starting a couple of new empowerment and educational initiatives: 

1.) “Black Girls Rock” Roundtable – Black female students will discuss successes and challenges in their experience as musicians. The discussion will be guided/mentored by world-renowned Black women in music.

2.) “Talk to Tia” IG Lives – One-on-one discussions with former and current students of Berklee College of Music sharing how Berklee has prepared (or preparing them) to enter the ‘real world’ of being an artist.

3.) Domestic Exchange Program between Berklee College and Spelman College (launching Fall 2022) -Students at Berklee College and Spelman College will be able to study at each institution for a semester.  This will allow Spelman College students to experience the musical rigor of Berklee College, and Berklee students can explore the cultural richness of an HBCU at Spelman College.

photo by Jerris Madison

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Featured Image by Philip Montgomery