UMass Amherst will celebrate the life of Fred Tillis with a tribute concert
The late Frederick C. Tillis left a significant cultural imprint not only on the community and the University of Massachusetts Amherst region, but internationally as an ambassador for what he often called music American classic – jazz.
Tillis, who died on May 3, 2020, at the age of 90, was a key architect of the university’s current music program. He will be remembered with a musical tribute from the UMass Amherst Department of Music and Dance on Sunday, February 20 at 4 p.m.
“Celebrating the Musical Legacy of Frederick Tillis” is free and open to the public. It will take place in the newly named Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall at the Randolph W. Bromery Center for the Arts at UMass Amherst.
“Fred left a significant cultural imprint not only within the university and the region, but internationally as an ambassador of…jazz. He was able to weave social commentary, authentic multicultural stories, sadness and joy into his music, whether it came from his earthy tenor sax, soaring soprano sax or his feather in song or poetry” , said Jeffrey W. Holmes. , music teacher and director of jazz and African-American music studies. “As a faculty member of the Department of Music and Dance, Director of the Center for Fine Arts, Director of the annual UMass Jazz Summer Workshop in July, and resident of Amherst, Fred has left an indelible mark on the during his 48 years in our valley. The relationships he built that brought so many world-renowned jazz musicians to campus, the avenues he paved for aspiring students, and his unwavering commitment to bringing appreciative equity to all art forms should not be forgotten.
Tillis arrived at UMass in 1970, where he was tasked with establishing a new jazz-focused curriculum, the precursor to the current Jazz and African American Music Studies curriculum. Tillis gave the department national prominence through the quality of its ensembles and its faculty, which included such luminaries as Horace Boyer, Max Roach, and Billy Taylor.
Tillis has toured internationally and recorded with students, alumni and faculty as part of the Tillis-Holmes Duo and the Tradewinds Jazz Ensemble. As a composer, his work has crossed both jazz and European traditions; his oeuvre includes more than 100 compositions for piano and voice, orchestra, choral pieces, chamber music, as well as those of the African-American spiritual tradition.
The Department of Music and Dance presents the concert as a showcase in remembrance and celebration of the musical impact Tillis had as a composer, saxophonist, collaborator and educator for so many decades. “Our 40th Annual Jazz Showcase video, which aired on YouTube last spring, included performances of pieces by Tillis as well as the late Yusef Lateef, but we certainly didn’t want that to be the only memory, and we worked to hold a concert and roundtable to properly honor Fred on February 22,” Holmes said. “It will be a tribute primarily ‘spoken’ through the power of musical expression – instrumental, vocal and prose ‘voices.’
A free pre-concert discussion on the life and legacy of Tillis will take place in the lobby of the Bromery Center beginning at 2:30 p.m. The discussion will be led by Department Director Salvatore Macchia. Tillis’ daughter, Pamela, will show a short clip from a documentary she is creating about her father.
“I see this performance as a multi-faceted musical album, with contributions from collaborators from his past and students of today who will hopefully carry the art form into the future,” Holmes told about the concert, which must include at least one original tune that hasn’t been played in nearly 40 years.
All attendees must adhere to departmental protocols regarding COVID-19. For more details visit, umass.edu/music/news/patron-covid-19-safety-policy.
The concert will be broadcast live on the department’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/user/umassmusicdance.
Event: “Celebrating the Musical Legacy of Frederick Tillis”
When: Sunday, February 20 at 4 p.m.
Or: Frederick C. Tillis Performance Hall at the Randolph W. Bromery Center for the Arts at UMass Amherst
Cost: To free
For more information: Visit umass.edu/music