BOSTON (CBS) – She’s a saxophonist, professor at Berklee College of Music and a former member of Beyonce’s all-female band. When you meet Tia Fuller, her personality is just as bright as her resume. If she takes home a statue on Sunday, she’ll be only the second woman ever to win for best jazz instrumental album.
When it comes to rising to the top of a male-dominated industry, Tia says she owes a lot to Queen B. “Playing with Beyonce was transformational for me. Not only as a musician but as a woman… especially a woman of color,” she said.
Tia told us she’ll never forget the conversations with her fellow band members on that first day of rehearsal. “Once we started talking, saying, ‘This feels weird because we are always used to being the only woman in the band, but here we are,’” she recalled.
She credits Beyonce with giving her, and the other band members, a chance to shine in her shows and with teaching her how to be a leader, a performer and a businesswoman. “I mean she’s always been big about female empowerment,” she laughed, singing a few bars from “I’m a Survivor.”
Now, Tia and her sax are out front and she’s the teacher.
“I’ve learned a ton about musicianship, what it means to be a performer,” explained Solomon Alber, a student who plays saxophone.
Tia does more than just teach and direct, she actually plays in an ensemble with the students.
“Ensembles are unlike other classes,” explained Berklee Ensemble Department Chair Sean Skeete. “It’s live, in the moment. She’s playing with students, so they understand the level they need to approach.”
Tia, who juggles gigs all over the country with teaching, believes women are getting a leg up in jazz and the music industry, in general, thanks, in part, to the attitude of her students and other young performers. “It’s not just about being a man or being a woman, it’s can you play? I’m hearing that more and more from the younger generation,” she said.
Her album, Diamond Cut, was produced by the only other woman to win the Grammy in the category, and Terri Lyne Carrington was one of Tia’s first calls when she found out about her nomination. “I was bawling on the phone to the point she couldn’t understand what I was saying,” Tia recalled.
Tia’s students are grateful to have her as a mentor and will be routing for her on Sunday. “It’s amazing. It’s crazy,” said Marcus Prince, a steel pan player who says he started listening to Tia’s music years before having her as a professor.
Tia says she’s taking her dad to the ceremony. “Whatever happens Sunday happens. I’ll keep my fingers crossed, but either way, I feel like I’ve won, and I’m really, really thankful,” she said.