As an art form, jazz has been notoriously slow to include women instrumentalists, but Tia Fuller — jazz saxophonist, composer and professor at Berklee College of Music — is on a mission to change that.
A Spelman alumna, Fuller has shared the stage with Aretha Franklin and Beyoncé; Ralph Peterson and Terri Lyne Carrington; and her very own quartet. In 2019, she became only the second woman to earn a Grammy nomination for best jazz instrumental album — Carrington was the first.
Fuller’s latest achievement as the saxophonist behind the character Dorothea Williams in Pixar’s “Soul” brings even greater visibility to women in jazz. Fuller performed the music behind Williams, while actress Angela Bassett played the voice.
Released on Christmas Day in 2020, “Soul” has grossed more than $71 million, won two Golden Globes and been nominated for three Oscars as well as four NAACP Image Awards.
In “Soul,” Williams gives music teacher Joe Gardner his big break when she invites him to perform on piano with her quartet at New York’s best jazz club.
“My life to me, in a macro perspective, really correlates with her journey as a woman playing this music and being a leading woman who’s playing at premier jazz clubs,” Fuller told “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes. “It was just really extraordinary to see how the stories at that point intersected.”
Fuller said she hopes “Soul” inspires a younger generation — and girls in particular — to take an interest in jazz.
“It’s about giving the level of visibility and then the platforms because throughout the history of jazz, women have always been at the root and at the forefront of creativity and innovation,” Fuller said.
Young women at Spelman and Berklee will soon have access to another platform, thanks to Fuller, who plans to launch an exchange program between the two colleges in the near future.
“Essentially, it’s all about well-roundedness,” Fuller said. “Being able to offer diverse perspectives and a certain level of excellence across the board no matter what it is that they desire to do.”