Way Up: Wayman Tisdale Remembered

by Val Vaccaro

It was a sad day on May 15, 2009 when we heard the surprising news in the smooth jazz world that 44 year-old bassist Wayman Tisdale passed away from bone cancer in a hospital in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Sincere condolences go out to Wayman Tisdale�s family (his wife Regina, his four children, and new granddaughter), and all of his friends, fellow musicians, and fans.

In 2007, after Tisdale had fallen down a flight of steps and broke his leg, he had knee replacement surgery and chemotherapy. In August 2008, Tisdale had the lower part of his right leg amputated. Recently, it seemed that Wayman Tisdale had happily recovered and was a proud cancer survivor. In early 2009, Tisdale released a new CD aptly titled Rebound � with the double meaning of recovery in life, and in reference to the sports term of regaining possession of the ball during a basketball game, in the winning spirit. In April 2009, sports cable TV channel ESPN in the U.S. aired an inspirational feature story on Wayman Tisdale.

In January 2009, Tisdale enjoyed being surrounded by his family, friends, musical peers, and over 2000 smooth jazz fans. They rallied around Wayman to celebrate his music, his �recovery� and the wonderful human being he was � on the smooth jazz cruise he hosted for Jazz Cruises LLC.

Just this past March, Wayman performed a show at Berks Jazz Fest in Reading, Pennsylvania at the Scottish Rite Cathedral as part of a �Smooth and Soulful� double-header show which also included the group Take 6. Tisdale had lost weight, needed the help of a cane and an assistant to walk, and he performed sitting down � but as SmoothVibes publisher Peter Boehi wrote, Tisdale still sounded great, and was planning to tour throughout 2009.

A decade ago back in 1999, I had the pleasure to see bassist Wayman Tisdale perform for the first time at the Beacon Theater in New York City (as part of a show with Gerald Albright and Will Downing) and had written an article on the show for the JVC Jazz Festival program.

The next time I caught up with Wayman was in June 2001. Tisdale and his band were opening for Kirk Whalum on a CD 101.9FM Smooth Cruise in NYC. It was then that the 6 foot 9 inches tall bass guitar player, towering over the crowd, wearing one of his sequined shirts, got to really shine on bass guitar and show off his musical prowess � including his great, catchy cover of the Earth, Wind and Fire tune �Can�t Hide Love� from Tisdale�s CD Face to Face. That was a special show in 2001 because lots of audience members had still never seen Wayman perform, and Kirk Whalum also joined in to play, along with Tom Braxton - the saxophonist in Wayman Tisdale�s band.

Fast forward to 2004 - Wayman had become a big smooth jazz star with his radio hit �Ain�t No Stopping Us Now� from his CD Hang Time. That year, I had the pleasure of seeing Wayman Tisdale play on the Dave Koz Tour at the Westbury Music Theater in Long Island, New York.

As a person, Wayman Tisdale was a dual-achiever � a great role model and an inspiration having been both a successful NBA player and a smooth jazz star.

Twenty five years ago, Wayman Tisdale had the honor of winning a gold medal playing on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team in Los Angeles with teammates Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, and Chris Mullin. In 1986, Wayman Tisdale was chosen as the No. 2 draft pick behind Patrick Ewing for the Indiana Pacers. For twelve years, Tisdale scored more than 12,800 points, and made over 5000 rebounds playing for the NBA with the Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns, before he retired from playing basketball in 1997.

Before he joined the NBA, Wayman Tisdale was a three-time All-American at the University of Oklahoma (in his freshman, sophomore, and junior years at college) where to this day, Tisdale is still the all-time leading scorer (in one single game alone, he scored 61 points)! Just last month in April, Wayman Tisdale received the news that he will be inducted on November 22, 2009 into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, along with Indiana State�s Larry Bird and Michigan State�s Earvin �Magic� Johnson. Now that induction will be posthumously, but at least Tisdale knew of this honor before he passed on.

Wayman Tisdale always loved music and had been playing the bass guitar since he was about nine years old. In 1995, Tisdale finally started to live out his other dream as a contemporary jazz musician � and released his first CD Power Forward. Since 1995, Wayman Tisdale has successfully recorded and performed his enthusiastic, catchy, upbeat R&B influenced smooth jazz music, releasing eight albums including his 2009 CD, Rebound. Tisdale garnered a number of hit songs on the radio, including his popular covers of �Ain�t No Stopping Us Now,� and �Can�t Hide Love.� Tisdale�s CDs often appeared in the Top 10 albums on Billboard�s Contemporary Jazz charts and crossed over onto the R&B charts.

Wayman Tisdale also received admiration from actor Jamie Foxx. (Jamie Foxx � who received an Academy award in his role as Ray Charles in the 2005 movie �Ray� has recorded his own records as a musician - his CD Unpredictable was a platinum-selling number one record on the Billboard albums charts.) In a recent Rolling Stone magazine interview, Jamie Foxx had said that his �dream band� would include Wayman Tisdale, Herbie Hancock, Wynton and Brandford Marsalis and Prince. That would have been something to see!

Back to Wayman. The greatest compliment an artist can receive is having an instantly recognizable sound � when you hear the first notes on the bass guitar over the airwaves of the radio, on the Internet, or in a store or airport, you know immediately that it is Wayman Tisdale � something that was acknowledged by the legendary bassist Marcus Miller, among many others. I remember telling Wayman that I had read about Marcus Miller�s compliment when I saw Tisdale at a solo performance release party for the CD Way Up at the record store FYE in midtown Manhattan on a rainy afternoon in June 2006. Wayman�s manager, Earl Cole (who also manages Kirk Whalum), was there at the store quietly supporting Wayman by his side.

In September 2006, I was happy to talk with Wayman Tisdale at the CD101.9 FM Liberty Jazz Festival. It was a jovial atmosphere in the backstage area with Wayman Tisdale, David Sanborn, Kirk Whalum, Kirk�s Uncle - vocalist Hugh �Peanuts� Whalum, and Jeff Golub all chatting together before the show. In my article on the Liberty Jazz Festival for SmoothVibes.com, I wrote: �Hear a note or two, and you instantly recognize the buoyant bass sounds of Wayman Tisdale on songs like his current hit "Get Down On It" on his 7th CD, Way Up (2006 Rendezvous).� Wayman Tisdale was truly at the top of his musical game that evening along with his fantastic �Rendezvous All Stars� tour mates that year - Kirk Whalum, Jonathan Butler, and Brian Simpson as the finale act at the Liberty Jazz Festival.

On his website, Wayman Tisdale fondly called his fans �WayTru Fans.� Wayman and his family recently established the Wayman Tisdale Foundation, with the mission of helping to make a positive difference in the lives of individuals with cancer and amputees by providing support and resources. Wayman�s inspirational words to others were: "Never give up because you can make it. If I can do it, so can you!" Wayman�s legacy will live on now through his Foundation and his music.

What I will always remember and one of the things that I�m sure family, friends, and fans will truly miss was Wayman Tisdale�s endearing, wonderfully winning smile � his big, charming baby-faced infectious grin always lit up the room with his warm friendly, and gracious personality. One word that may best describe Wayman and his music is �joy.� Thanks Wayman, for being �WayTru� and bringing us the joyful gift of sharing your enthusiastic personality and melodic, optimistic music with the world. We will miss you.

On Wednesday, May 20, 2009, there was a public viewing to pay respects to Wayman Tisdale, and also a service where attendees could share their memories later that evening at the Friendship Baptist Church in Oklahoma.

On Thursday, May 21, 2009, the BOK Center in Oklahoma opened its doors at 8am to welcome family, friends, and fans of Tisdale; that morning, at 10:30am, Wayman Tisdale�s band played a tribute to him, and at 11am, the funeral was scheduled to begin (with all events free and open to the public).

Later that Thursday evening on May 21st, a musical tribute took place at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame at the Jazz Depot presented by the Jazz Hall and drummer Arthur Thompson and hosted by comedian Jonathan Slocum. Wayman Tisdale�s musical friends scheduled to perform included: Kirk Whalum, Dave Koz, Marcus Miller, Gerald Albright, Najee, Tom Braxton, Everette Harp, Kim Waters, Raphael Saadiq, Marvin Saap, Fred Hammonds, Mike Philips, Arlington Jones, Bernard Wright, Lenny White, Cornell Morell, Arthur Thompson and many others. The proceeds from the show will benefit the Wayman Tisdale Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides support and resources to people in need, including individuals with cancer and amputees. Tisdale�s family also asked that in lieu of flowers or gifts, contributions be made to the Wayman Tisdale Foundation.

For the rest of 2009, at every concert event Wayman Tisdale was scheduled to perform at - and every time we see an ad for one of those concerts � it will be a reminder that Tisdale�s presence will be missed.

One of Wayman Tisdale�s roles in life seemed to be to make people happy with his music. Wayman Tisdale was also a spiritual man � his father was a Baptist Minister, and on his first CD Power Forward, he recorded the song �Amazing Grace.� On Wayman Tisdale�s current CD Rebound, the final song track is called �Grateful,� an emotional song with gospel great Marvin Sapp. The world is grateful to have known Wayman Tisdale and to have his music. I imagine that Wayman Tisdale will be �Way Up� there smiling down watching everyone at all of the tributes (at live shows and on future recordings) to him, knowing he was truly loved and appreciated by his family, his friends, so many great musicians, and his fans. At the present time, Wayman Tisdale�s website has not yet been updated since his passing� just another reminder that the shining star of Wayman Tisdale�s spirit will always live on.

Live concert photos by Bazpix.