Composer-performer-educator- and poet, Frederick Tillis was born in Galveston, Texas on January 5, 1930. He is a graduate of Wiley College, receiving his B.A. at the age of 19, then 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. Beginning his professional performing career at the age of 12, as a jazz saxophonist, he 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.
As an educator and cultural ambassador, Tillis visited the University of Fort Hare in South Africa to advise in the establishment of their jazz studies program, 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 a text book entitled Jazz Theory and Improvisation and fifteen 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 Harvest; Breaking Dawn & Healing; The Nature of Things: Human and Otherwise; Beginning Again; China-Shades, Shadows, and Scenes; and Ghosts and Winds in Eqypt's Lands.
Dr. Tillis was Professor Emeritus in the Department of Music and Dance and serves as Director Emeritus of the University Fine Arts Center and Director Emeritus of the Jazz in July Workshops in Improvisation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
He passed away May 3, 2020 in Amherst, MA.
List of recordings available:
ACA Festival 2004
Spiritual Fantasy No. 23
Festival Journey Concerto -
Spiritual Fantasy No. 9 -
Freedom (In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King)
A Latin American Suite
University of Massachusetts Orchestra
Four Corners of the World
Motherless Child - Spiritual Fantasy No. 12 - Spiritual Fantasy No. 9 - Freedom - Beyond Shades of Doubt - The Rain Forest - Singing for the Sake fo My Soul - The Best Times
Music for Peace and Goodwill
Four Corners of The World - In the Spirit and the Flesh - Spiritual Fantasy #1 - For The Victims and Survivors of September, 11
American Trumpet Concertos Spiritual Fantasy No. 6
ACA Festival 2006 Spiritual Fantasy Suite
ACA Festival 2009 Song for Sister Hokkaido
Jazz- American Classical Music
Autumn Concerto for Trumpet - Images of the Blue Earth - Duet For Soprano Saxophone and Piano - The Time Has Come - Blue Differentia - Spanish and Indian Drone - Oil in My Vessel - Image of Blue Earth
Celebration (Grand March)
Frederick Tillis as a performer: Music of WC Handy, Charlie Parker, Billy Taylor and many others. Among Friends: The Billy Taylor Trio and Fred Tillis Harlem Blues Billy Taylor, piano; Victor Gaskin, bass; Bob Thomas, drums; Fred Tillis, tenor & soprano saxophone Includes The Holidays by Fred Tillis
Paintings in Sound for Solo Saxophone, Frederick Tillis Motherless Child (Trad./Tillis) - One for Ray - Sombrero Dance - Rhymes and Rhythms - Sophisticated Lady (Ellington/Tillis) - A Different Drumming I - Besame Mucho (Velazquez/Tillis) - Ride the Wind - Toh Ryan Se (Trad. Japanese/Tillis) - A Different Drumming II - The Time Has Come - Golden Earrings
It's About Time Spiritual Fantasy No. 5 Laura Klock: Horn, Nadine Shank: Piano Label: Albany
Yael Manor/Elixir Music for solo piano Spiritual Fantasy No. 4
Festival Journey Concerto Max Roach, trap drums (soloist); The New Orchestra of Boston - David Epstein, conductor
Spiritual Fantasy No. 9 Paulina Stark, soprano (soloist); University of Massachusetts Chorale - Richard du Bois, conductor
Freedom (In Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King) University of Massachusetts Chorale - Richard du Bois, conductor