Beyonce’s saxophonist Tia Fuller a star on her own

Tia Fuller. Picture: Greg Macvean
Tia Fuller. Picture: Greg Macvean
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TYPE ‘Beyonce - Déjà Vu Live World Music Awards 2006’ into YouTube and you might just catch a glimpse of Tia Fuller, stage right, dancing along with the pop superstar, her saxophone in hand.

“That was our first performance as a band and we were all so excited,” recalls the self-confessed jazz-head.

“It’s so funny what time can do. That first performance we were nervous... excited... we were going to be on TV... get our hair and make-up done... then, after doing that for a year, the excitement lessens and it becomes more like work,” she laughs.

Despite all the showbiz glamour, backstage with Beyonce, everyone is down to earth, reveals the 37-year-old, who has been invited to perform as a headline act of the 35th Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, which kicks off today across the Capital.

“Beyonce was the leader of the group,” Fuller explains. “She had a musical director, so there were things she would explain to the musical director, and they would then explain to us, but as time went on she would communicate with us directly. It grew into that. It’s about trust, after all she had ten women that she had never met before coming into her space. I can see how that would be a little uncomfortable, but she definitely became more comfortable with us.”

Fuller has been missing from Beyonce’s band for the last couple of years. But she reveals, “I haven’t been able to tour with her because I have been on tour with my own band, but I just got a call, and when I get back, I’m doing a video shoot with her.”

Before that, there’s a chance to see Fuller do her own thing at the Queen’s Hall tonight, when the American jazz superstar makes her Capital debut along with her big swinging, bop–based band.

“Prior to coming here, the first time I had heard about the Festival was when my management sent me the request to perform here,” she admits. “But there are a lot of festivals throughout the world of which I am not aware. But with this one, my record company producer strongly suggested that I should do it because it has such a rich history. Also, a lot of artists from America have played it. So although it was something I wasn’t familiar with, the larger part of jazz culture in America is very familiar with this festival.”

Featuring 146 concerts, performers from six continents and live music over ten days, Edinburgh’s jazz festival has lived to Fuller’s expectations so far, as has the Capital.

“The energy is really great here. The people seem like they are very receptive to something new and I’m looking forward to learning more about the local culture.

With a laugh she adds, “I thought the Royal Mile was beautiful. How amazing to have such views in a city centre, though it’s not the easiest in heels.”

Fuller began playing the saxophone while at school and recalls, “Initially it was just the sound of the instrument that attracted me.

“At the point I started playing I was actually playing the flute. I had asked my middle school band director what I should play – because I wanted to be part of the jazz band - and he recommended the saxophone. With both my parents being musicians, I had always seen myself as a saxophonist in my parents’ band.

“But I remember my first experience of playing it. When I blew into the instrument, unlike the flute where half of the air escapes while the other half goes into the instrument, all of my air was going into the saxophone.

“That was extremely powerful and empowering and I liked the fact that I felt like I immediately connected with the instrument. It felt like it was a voice - just being able to blow your wind through the instrument.

“It has so many different timbres that even now, after 15 to 20 years of playing, I’m still learning them.”

Now widely regarded as one of the most exciting artists currently working on the US jazz scene, Fuller also teaches music and believes it is important to pass on her skill.

“That’s how I learned. My parents are both educators so the element of education has always been highly esteemed and valued in our family”, she says, but that’s not the only reason she became a teacher.

“I feel that in order for us to continue this music, it is our job to pass it on. That is in the history and lineage of the music... it is an aural tradition. What better way to share and keep this music alive than by being able to give that to the community.”

At the Queen’s Hall tonight, Fuller will be sharing music from her latest album, Angelic Warrior - a great title for an album.

“We’re going to have an inspiring and hopefully entertaining show, playing music from my latest release,” she says, before explaining the origins of the title.

“It was a term that I initially came up with just to celebrate the balance of the two sides of a person. Everybody has this; the angel being the graceful, peaceful, meditative humble side of a personality and the warrior being the more determined, disciplined and sometimes aggressive side.

“Angelic Warrior is about maintaining that balance between the two, within the one personality and I wanted to celebrate it in other people as well as myself .”

Tonight you too can celebrate that and the many facets of jazz superstar Tia Fuller, at the Queen’s Hall.

• Tia Fuller, Queen’s Hall, tonight, 8pm, £15-£20, 0131-473 2000