Frederick Tillis

Arts Advocate in Amherst, MA



Arts Advocate in Amherst, MA



About Dr. Tillis

Biography of A Classical Music Artist in Amherst, MA

Music Educator in Amherst, MA

Frederick C. Tillis, musician, composer, poet, and arts advocate, based in Amherst, MA, was born in Galveston, Texas on January 5, 1930. He is a B.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.

As a jazz saxophonist, he performed and 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 consulted as a Master Artist  at 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 fifteen books of poetry including: 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, and Scattered Ghosts, and Southern Winds,

Dr. Tillis is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Music and Dance and serves as Director Emeritus of the University Fine Arts Center and is Co-founder and Director Emeritus of the  Jazz in July Workshops in Improvisation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

ACADEMIA and Lectures

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 serves as Director Emeritus of the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center, having been the Director for over twenty years prior to his retirement in December 1997. He has been involved with development and arts projects in local and regional communities.

His numerous activities included: 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; writing several books of poetry; and recording several albums. Dr. Tillis also participated in lectures/performances both nationally and internationally, including in South Africa, India, Japan, and with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington D.C.

Jazz Saxophone


 As a soprano, alto, and tenor saxophonist, Tillis performed music in the jazz and other African American traditions throughout this country and the world. As well as residencies, he 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 Portraits from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, with Tillis-Holmes Duo and Friends (quartet).