The oldest continuous jazz festival in the world and the second-newest school in the California State University system launched a new partnership when alto saxophonist Tia Fuller, who is a 2018 Monterey Jazz Festival co-artist-in-residence, gave a talk and led a quartet performance in Seaside.
Fuller’s “From Beyoncé and Beyond: Music Business, Performance and Leadership” presentation on March 5 at California State University-Monterey Bay was the inaugural event in a series hosted by the school and festival that aims to connect the two organizations.
Joined by pianist Eddie Mendenhall (a MJF High School All-Star Band alumnus), bassist Katie Thiroux (a past Next Generation Festival participant and one-time Next Generation Jazz Orchestra member) and drummer-percussionist Marcie Chapa, Fuller began the evening with Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” Joe Henderson’s “Recorda Me” and an original lullaby the bandleader penned for a friend’s newborn child.
For her nearly 45-minute presentation, which was bracketed by her performances, Fuller drew from her own experiences to share tips and advice. While the most common question she gets is “Is Beyoncé nice?” Fuller said she learned innumerable lessons while touring as part of “The Beyoncé Experience” and “I Am …” world tours.
“Everything happens for a purpose or a reason,” she declared, before presenting three qualities—vision, perseverance and optimism—that have guided her musical journey. Reflecting on her childhood in Denver and her early days in New York playing with T.S. Monk and the Duke Ellington Orchestra, she recalled the tiers of rehearsals she had to go through before learning in 2006 that she’d landed a spot in Beyoncé’s backing tentet.
It was the type of wisdom one might gather at an after-gig hang, but distilled in a compelling multi-media lecture.
Chapa remained on stage to help contribute to some of Fuller’s anecdotes, and Thiroux and Mendenhall returned to the bandstand for two closing numbers—a contemporary reading of “Body & Soul” with the bandleader on vocals (subbing for Dianne Reeves, who sang the tune on Fuller’s 2012 Angelic Warrior) and an unannounced bop-ish tune.
The following day, Fuller and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, the other 2018 MJF co-artist-in-residence, remained in the area to participate in MJF’s Jazz in the Schools outreach in Monterey County before serving as Next Generation Festival adjudicators, clinicians and performers that weekend.
Between the charismatic quartet show and Fuller’s inspiring chat, the first event in this new partnership offered unique insight into the career and performance life of one of the genre’s best-known saxophonists.