Composer, and poet, Frederick Tillis was born in Galveston, Texas on January 5, 1930. He is a graduate of Wiley College and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of Iowa. His catalog includes more than 125 compositions and commissions, spanning both jazz and classical European traditions in various media - orchestral, jazz, instrumental, choral, chamber music, and vocal works. Melodic and harmonic textures reflect elements of various musics of the world, including Asian and Western cultures, as well as natural outgrowths of his ethnic and cultural background.
Tillis' music is performed nationally and abroad. Among his commissioned compositions are "A Symphony of Songs," a choral/orchestral work based on poems by Wallace Stevens and commissioned by The Hartford Chorale, Inc. (1999); "A Festival Journey," (1992) and "Ring Shout Concerto," (1974) for percussion, written for Max Roach and premiered by Max Roach and symphony orchestra; and "Concerto for Piano" (Jazz Trio) and symphony orchestra (1983) written for Billy Taylor and performed with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.
Dr. Tillis has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the 1997 Commonwealth Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and an award for outstanding service from the International Association of Jazz Educators. As Professor of Music at the University of Massachusetts, he taught music composition and a survey course in the history of Afro-American Music & Musicians. Active as a jazz saxophonist, he has traveled with the Tillis-Holmes Jazz Duo and the Tradewinds Jazz Ensemble to Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, England, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, the former Soviet Union, Switzerland, and Turkey.
In addition, he recently visited the University of Fort Hare in South Africa, served as a Master Artist in residence at the Akiyoshidai International Art Village in Yamaguchi, Japan and conducted a three-week residency on behalf of the United States Information Agency at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand in 1991 to help the school establish a major in jazz.
Dr. Tillis has published seven books of poetry: In the Spirit and the Flesh, Images of Mind and Heart, In Celebration, Of Moons, Moods, Myths, and the Muse, Harlem Echoes, Children's Corner: From A to Z, Seasons, Symbols, and Stones, Akiyoshidai Diary, Scattered Ghosts & Southern Winds, Bittersweet Harvests, Breaking Dawn & Healing, The Nature of Things: Human and Otherwise, and Beginning Again.
Dr. Tillis is currently Professor Emeritus in the Department of Music and Dance and serves as Director Emeritus of the University Fine Arts Center and Director of the Jazz in July Workshops in Improvisation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
(portrait of Tillis by Jack Coughlin)