Saxophonist Tia Fuller was crying in bed. And praising God.
She’d just received the news that she was nominated for her first-ever Grammy Award — but it’s not just any nomination: Her inclusion in the best jazz instrumental album category is a historic moment for women because they have rarely been nominated for the coveted award throughout the Grammys’ 61-year history.
And if Fuller wins, she becomes just the second women to take home the prize.
The 42-year-old, who was born and raised in Aurora, has followed in the footsteps of her parents, who are also musicians and educators.
“I feel really blessed. Anytime I think extensively about being in the category and (anything) Grammy-wise, I start tearing up,” said Fuller, this time smiling ear-to-ear with light tears of joy in her eyes. “It’s really a dream come true. I’m realizing that dreams can become reality and everything is tangible.”
Her nominated album, “Diamond Cut,” is a smooth and striking collection that has brought the skilled performer, who once played with Ray Charles during her college years and toured with Beyonce, to the next level. The album, her fifth, was produced by another woman making critical waves in jazz, Terri Lyne Carrington. The drummer, who came to national prominence decades ago in “The Arsenio Hall Show” band, became the first female to win best jazz instrumental album at the 2014 Grammys.
Carrington describes the win as bittersweet because of the “many great female instrumentalists that weren’t nominated ever, so that was really disheartening.”
“It just shows that there’s a lot of work to do when it comes to gender equity in jazz and the music industry in general,” she added.
It’s one of the reasons Carrington, a three-time Grammy winner, is excited for Fuller’s success and has been a mentor to the artist.
“I feel like this record is showing her growth and her evolution,” Carrington said. “If nothing else, I believe that she’s really motivated to keep pushing herself and keep evolving into all that she can be.”
“Diamond Cut” is Fuller’s first album in six years. She’s been busy as a professor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music since 2013, and that decision to move to Boston to fulfill a lifetime dream came at a crossroads: In the same 24-hour period that Fuller was offered the teaching position, Beyonce asked Fuller to perform again with the band.
“That was the year I think they were doing the Super Bowl and she was going back out on tour,” recalled Fuller, who performed with Beyonce from 2006 to 2010.
“While I was on tour with her something came over me and spoke, ‘You have to move in faith and not fear. Don’t be afraid of what may not happen, or get attached to the artificial result of, ‘I’m playing with Beyonce,’” she said. “So the reason why that I ended up not going back is because I realized that it was time for me to move on.”
Fuller’s decision was very Beyonce-like: “She’s always pressing forward. Always growing. Always evolving. …I sat back and I just watched how she would never take ‘no’ for an answer. She would always find a ‘yes.’ And that’s something that now, I’ve incorporated into me being a leader, a band leader, a businesswoman, a professor at Berklee, all of that.”
Fuller first started playing the piano at three, then moved on to the flute. But once her grandfather handed her a saxophone, she was hooked.
“I was in the upper level of my parent’s house, like the loft. I just remember how it reverberated throughout the house. I was like, ‘Oh this is way better than flute, I can be loud.’”