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Frederick Tillis lectures at the

 Digital Record


  • 1985 - 1989


Musician, composer, performer, poet, arts advocate and administrator, director emeritus of the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center (FAC) and co-founder and director emeritus of its Jazz in July program Frederick Tillis delivered 4 lectures. He spoke on 10/15/1985 (2015-0002/RR278), 10/7/1986 (2015-0002/RR279), 10/6/1987 (2015-0002/RR280), and 9/12/1989 (2015-0002/AC24).

Biographical / Historical

Frederick Tillis was born in Galveston, Texas on January 5, 1930. His first musical experiences were courtesy of his mother, who played piano and sang to him as a child. Later, at George Washington Carver Elementary School, Tillis decided to join the school's drum and bugle corps. As he became more proficient on trumpet, Tillis found his first professional job as a musician in jazz bands when he was twelve years old, earning him the nickname "Baby Tillis". Tillis' band director at Central Side High School, Fleming S. Huff, suggested that he start playing the saxophone.

In 1946, Tillis was accepted at Wiley College on a music scholarship, becoming the first in his family to receive a college education. He graduated from Wiley in 1949 with a B.A. in music, accepting the position of college band director there almost immediately, and promptly married fellow Wiley music major, Edna Louise Dillon. They moved from Texas in 1951 so that Tillis could attend the University of Iowa for graduate music studies. From 1952-1956, Tillis was a band director in the US Air Force. He later went back to get his PhD under the GI Bill at University of North Texas College of Music, but then returned to the University of Iowa to finish his doctoral studies. Completing his PhD in 1963, Tillis then held a succession of academic positions at Wiley College, Grambling College, and Kentucky State University. In 1970, Randolph Bromery recruited Tillis to the faculty of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and he and his family moved to Massachusetts. Joining the faculty as an associate professor of music, Tillis eventually held many faculty and administrative positions during his tenure at the University of Massachusetts. He retired in 1997, but still held the title of Professor Emeritus in the Department of Music and Dance. Tillis served as Director Emeritus of the University Fine Arts Center and Director of the Jazz in July Workshops in Improvisation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

A composer whose musical maturity came into full bloom during the Civil Rights Movement, Tillis deliberately incorporated elements of jazz and serial techniques into his pieces of music. He composed art songs, choral music, orchestral works, chamber music, as well as jazz compositions, and music for mixed media. Tillis also authored the textbook Jazz Theory and Improvisation (1978).

Tillis wrote music since the age of twenty, and was influenced by Schoenberg, Bach, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, African-American composers, and world music. Some of Tillis' more notable compositions include 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 Concerto for Piano (Jazz Trio) and symphony orchestra (1983) written for Billy Taylor. Tillis also wrote several books of poetry.

Frederick Tillis died on May 20, 2020.

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3 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recordings) : RR 278 1 reel, 1:23:18; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester. RR 279 1 reel, 1:20:36; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester. RR 280 1 reel, 1:17:28; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester.

1 Cassettes (Audio cassette tape recording) : AC 24 1 cassette, Side A-0:46:35, Side B-0:21:26. The recordings were combined for ease of listening. The combined run time of the digital recording is 1:07:57.

Existence and Location of Originals

Original audio recordings reside in the University of Connecticut, Black Experience in the Arts Collection, Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US