TSJR’s Featured Smooth Jazz Artist
A profile of our selected smooth jazz artist of the month
For the next few months, TSJR would like to take some time to pay homage to some of the late great jazz artists who helped to break ground and pave the road for what we now know and love as smooth jazz. Stroll with us for awhile as we recall the wondrous years when we had these greats in our midst, contributing their very souls to this living music. This month, we honor:
Wayman Tisdale – Still Looming Larger Than Life
Wayman Tisdale (bassist) 1964-2009 : I am surely stating the obvious to most readers here, but, for the few who were not familiar with him, Wayman Tisdale was an American professional basketball player in the NBA and a smooth jazz bass guitarist. A three-time All American at the University of Oklahoma, he was elected to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Tisdale graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma,
where he grew up. As a college player at the University of Oklahoma from 1983 to 1985, he was a three-time Big Eight Conference Player of the Year and the first player in collegiate history to be named a first-team All American by the Associated Press in his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons. He still holds the record at Oklahoma for the most points scored by any player through his freshman and sophomore seasons. He won a gold medal as a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team coached by Indiana University’s Bobby Knight, and the Indiana Pacers made Tisdale the second overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft.
In 1997, Tisdale became the first player in any sport to have his jersey number (23) retired by the University of Oklahoma. When Blake Griffin was granted permission to wear it during his career at OU (2007–2009), he sought and received Tisdale’s blessing before accepting it.
“He was obviously a great, great player, but Wayman as a person overshadowed that. He just lit up a room and was so positive,” said Billy Tubbs, who coached Tisdale with the Sooners.
“He was the nicest man in the world with the biggest heart and an even bigger smile. I thank him for befriending me and showing me there is more to life than just basketball,” said former Pacers star Reggie Miller, who played with Tisdale in the NBA.
The outstanding freshman award in the NCAA is named the Wayman Tisdale Award.
As Tisdale’s basketball career was winding down, his music career was just getting started. “The guys, especially Charles Barkley, used to tease me on the bus when they’d see me with my bass,” Tisdale told Billboard. However, before he ever released a solo album, Tisdale was busy writing and producing. He wrote the song “Payday” for The Winans, a cut that featured R. Kelly. He also wrote several songs for SWV’s first album, which sold around 3 million copies.
In 1995, after putting together a demo of seven songs, he proved that his interest in music was not just a passing fancy when he scored a recording contract with Motown’s MoJazz label. His debut album, aptly titled Power Forward, made it to number four on Billboard’s contemporary jazz charts. In 1996, Tisdale released his second album, once again taking on a basketball theme with the title In the Zone.
The unexpected death of his 74-year-old father on March 28, 1997, helped finalize Tisdale’s decision to retire from the NBA following the 1996-97 season to focus solely on his music. It also became the impetus for his third album, Decisions, released in 1998, which marked a pivotal moment in his professional and personal life. Although the move to full-time musician may have surprised those who had followed his NBA career, for Tisdale, the transition was natural and smooth. “Music was what I thought I was going to do,” he told Jet. “I wanted to be an artist even before I started thinking about basketball.”
Primarily a bass player, he recorded eight albums, with his 2001 release Face to Face climbing to No. 1 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart. Tisdale’s abilities as a bass player rivalled his abilities as a power forward, and 2002 saw him awarded the Bassist of the Year honour during the 2002 National Smooth Jazz Awards. The track “Can’t Hide Love” from the same album was a number one hit. In an ESPN internet chat, Tisdale said his musical influences included funk bands of the 1970s.
In 2002, he was also awarded the Legacy Tribute Award by the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
For his fifth album, Tisdale followed an industry trend by forming his own production company, Tisway Records, to produce 21 Days, which includes contributions from Tisdale’s daughter Danielle and his brother Weldon, who followed their father as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, where Tisdale and his family continue to attend. Tisdale wrote or co-wrote the eleven tracks for this gospel-influenced album which includes songs such as “We Worship” and “Jesus Is the Answer.”
In 2004, Tisdale worked with Rendezvous Entertainment co-founder saxophonist Dave Koz to produce his sixth album, Hang Time, featuring Koz’s saxophone. The album also includes the re-release of “Glory Glory,” which first appeared on 21 Days. Tisdale spent much of 2004 on the road touring with Koz.
Tisdale’s July 2006 release, Way Up!, was another number one contemporary jazz chart album staying in the top spot for four weeks.
His release Rebound was written and released after he was diagnosed with cancer.
In March 2007, Tisdale underwent treatment for cancer in his knee (osteosarcoma), which was discovered after he fell down a flight of stairs in his home on February 8 and broke his leg. In August 2008, Tisdale had part of his right leg amputated because of the bone cancer.
Shortly after the operation, he was fitted for a prosthesis. Scott Sabolich, the clinical director, said that in his 21-year career he had never created a prosthesis as large as the one he had to design for Tisdale. Sabolich noted that it typically takes a new amputee from three to six months to acclimate to a prosthesis, but it took Tisdale just a month. He proved to be equally quick in learning to walk on his new limb. A physical therapist with whom Tisdale worked in Tulsa said that he was months ahead of a typical patient in that respect. Tisdale’s experience led him to establish the Wayman Tisdale Foundation to raise funds to help amputees with the prosthetic process, a process not always covered by health insurance.
In June 2009, the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa announced that its new specialty health clinic in north Tulsa would be named in Tisdale’s honor.
Never one to give up or give in and always one to give of his glowing smile and great musical prowess (by the way, he was totally self-taught and didn’t read music at all), the towering funk machine performed enthusiastically all the way up to the time the cancer totally incapacitated and finally took him. TSJR’s Ronald Jackson and Aira Olave had the pleasure of seeing and cruising with the gentle giant on The Smooth Jazz Cruise on numerous occasions, and they agree that his wholesome and good-natured character were on equal footing with his musical talents. The quality artist with the contagious smile will always be missed and appreciated by his peers and fans everywhere. – Steve Giachardi
To view Wayman Tisdale’s complete discography, click here.