Arts Advocate in Amherst, MA



About Dr. Tillis

Biography of A Classical Music Artist in Amherst, MA

Music Educator in Amherst, MA

Frederick Tillis, classical music artist in Amherst, MA, 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, and Seasons, Symbols, and Stones. Two other books of poetry, Akiyoshidai Diary, and Scattered Ghosts and Southern Winds, are currently in preparation for publication.

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.


Dr. Tillis has been a member of the music faculties of Wiley College, Grambling University, Kentucky State University, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of a published textbook, Jazz Theory and Improvisation, and has written articles and lectured on African American music and jazz nationally and internationally.

In 1980, Tillis was named "Distinguished Lecturer" by the Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts. He served as a music consultant for the United States Information Agency and provided a three-week residency at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, where he lectured, performed, and advised the Music Department in developing a major in jazz. He has also lectured at Carnegie-Mellon University, the University of Connecticut, Kentucky State University, Regis College (Framingham, Massachusetts), the Danforth Association, and in Japan, Mexico, and Russia.

Director emeritus

Fine Arts Center

Dr. Tillis is currently serving as Director Emeritus of the University Fine Arts Center, having been the Director for almost twenty years prior to his retirement in December, 1997. He is currently involved with development and arts projects in local and regional communities.

His recent busy schedule of activities includes: Artist-in-Residence at Akiyoshidai International Arts Festival in Japan; premieres of commissioned compositions for the Hartford Chorale and Symphony Orchestra and Suite for String Orchestra and Children's Chorus; a book of poetry entitled Seasons, Symbols, and Stones as well as drafts for Akiyoshidai Diary and South African Diary; and a new C.D. project featuring the music from Porgy and Bess.

Dr. Tillis has continued to be active with lectures/performances both nationally and internationally. Also included among his activities are performances and lectures in South Africa, India, Japan, and the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Jazz Saxophone


 As a soprano and tenor saxophonist, Tillis performs music in the jazz and other African American traditions throughout this country and the world. As well as residencies, he has travelled with the Tillis-Holmes Jazz Duo, the University of Massachusetts Chorale, and the Tradewinds Jazz Ensemble to Australia, China, Estonia, Fiji, Greece, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, the former Soviet Union, Thailand, and Turkey. Tillis has also made numerous solo and group recordings including Festival Journey Concerto (1999) with Max Roach and the New Orchestra of Boston, Freedom (1996), The Second Time Around (1991), Paintings in Sound (1990), Contrasts and Diversions with the Tillis-Holmes Jazz Duo (1987), and Among Friends with the Billy Taylor Trio (1992), and Portrits from Gerswin's Porgy and Bess, with Tillis-Holmes Duo and Friends (quartet).