By Genevieve Rose, bassist and music educator
Dr. Frederick Tillis was an incredibly kind, supportive, and genuinely caring individual. A dedicated supporter of the arts, he was also an amazingly talented saxophonist, composer, poet, and inspiring jazz educator.
I first met Dr. Tillis 25+ years ago when he was a guest presenter for the AAIMS Program at the Community Music School of Springfield. He invited students to play a jazz tune with him, and I eagerly volunteered, as he made us feel comfortable with his friendly and welcoming demeanor. Since then, he has been one of the pivotal people in helping make my life today of teaching and playing possible. Dr. Tillis encouraged me to attend both the Jazz in July Program and UMass Amherst. He helped facilitate my studies there by generously providing scholarship opportunities for financially disadvantaged students to be able to afford a college education.
Throughout the years Dr. Tillis continued his amazing legacy of enduring advocacy for the arts, both through his affiliation and administration of the UMass Fine Arts Center, and through the Jazz in July program. Key components of his educational philosophy were to support diversity, and bridge experienced musicians with learners. Dr. Tillis personally helped me gain experience by including me on his Portraits From Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess recording, as well as a performance trip overseas to Greece and Turkey. He helped make it possible for me to join the Jazz in July faculty as a house rhythm section bassist for the vocalists. For many years I have enjoyed observing him perform on stage, as well as seeing him in the audience showing support for the musicians. He was always in good spirits, and had thoughtful and encouraging things to say. I feel very grateful to Dr. Tillis for being such an important part of my life, and I will miss him greatly!
Genevieve Rose with Dr. Fred Tillis and Sheila Jordan (left) and with Carlos Bermudo (right) at Dr. Tillis' retirement party in 1997. Photos by Ed Cohen