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Wayman Tisdale

Reaching the heights of success in two worlds is a feat that few people can accomplish while keeping a level head and staying true to themselves. On his aptly titled Atlantic Records album Decisions, Wayman Tisdale has reached that level and affirmed his position in the big leagues of jazz with the talent and heart to back him up. Tisdale, a former Phoenix Suns forward and 12-year NBA veteran, has traded in his hi-tops and hoops jersey for a life in recording studios and smokey jazz clubs.

Leaving a successful career in pro sports to fully devote himself to music was not something decided upon overnight. Instead of a "roll with the flow" laid back attitude or letting life happen to him, Tisdale has plotted his course and made his decisions. "I felt that after 12 years, it was time to move on," said Tisdale in a recent RockLove exclusive. "I didn't feel the love in my heart to get to the gym and keep doing what I did every night. Knowing how to make it to the top in basketball is a knowledge that I've transferred over to music." Considering the track record of past sports to music crossovers, some may say Tisdale's foray into music was an unwise or even disastrous move. The example set by football great Terry Bradshaw's brief and unforgettable country music career fizzled long before it set the country charts on fire. Recent attempts at music stardom by Shaquille O'Neal and Deion Sanders haven't made lasting impressions, either.

But, Wayman Tisdale is in a unique genre of music that is much more technically demanding than the different rigors required in rap. With jazz, particularly concerning the legendary scrutiny among bass players, if you don't have what it takes to play with the big boys, you get sent back to the minors. Overproduction or hired studio guns can't cover your back if you can't play the instrument and win over a crowd. Tisdale's seriousness, deep musical ability and direction have placed him far above any other sports star turned musician.

"I think I'm succeeding where others have not because music fans can hear my sincerity," said Tisdale. "It's me playing the songs, not somebody else. I've been given a talent from above and I try to reflect that in how I present myself."

Wayman Tisdale was born 33 years ago in Fort Worth and grew up "out in the country" in Tulsa, OK. Sports and music sort of sprouted at the same time in his younger years.

"My dad bought me a guitar as a gift when I was a little kid," said Tisdale. "He wanted one of his three sons to play music for him. I fooled around with it and started learning to play." Wayman also started to do something else that would profoundly impact the course of his life. He shot up over 24 inches in height and began to hear the call of the basketball courts.

"When I grew a couple of feet taller in that time, everybody wanted me to play basketball," said Tisdale. "It really took off in junior high. I didn't have as much time for music then, but I never left one for the other."

Basketball was his first love with music coming in a close second. The 12 years in the NBA that he recently left behind are by no means average even by superstar standards. Before his pro career, he was the top high school basketball player in the nation. Over 200 colleges courted the young rising star.

"That was one of the most important times in my life," said Tisdale. "I had 250 colleges to pick from. It was a big decision. If I made the wrong choice, it could negatively affect the rest of my life."

The college he chose was right in his backyard--Oklahoma University. He went on to become the first player in NCAA history to earn All-America First Team honors in his first three years and was the first player in OU history to have his jersey number retired. He also earned a prime spot on the gold medal winning 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team. He passed up his senior year of college play to enter the 1985 NBA draft and was taken by the Indiana Pacers in the second round just after Patrick Ewing. Four years later, he was traded to the Sacramento Kings where he spent five seasons. Tisdale signed as a free agent with Phoenix in 1994 and helped them clinch the Pacific Division 94-95 title. That season also marked the beginning of his membership to an NBA team with a winning record. He went on to score his 12,000th career point the next season, one of only 40 active NBA players at that time to achieve that high mark. His passion and precision on the court made him one of the top "go to guys" in the NBA. When the Suns needed him to fill in for a team mate, he was there to do his job and make the plays.

Not long before he retired from pro ball, Tisdale started on his journey into professional music. Wayman and his "Fifth Quarter" band recorded Power Forward, his 1995 debut album on Motown's MoJazz label. His talents and prowess on the court, however, were still stronger than his studio and performing skills. "On my first album, I was still unsure of myself as a musician," said Tisdale. "It literally took me hours to come up with a solo." His unsteady but impressive musical debut began to parallel his growth as an athlete. The old saying "practice makes perfect" was certainly true for him. Power Forward soared to #4 on Billboard's "Top Contemporary Jazz" chart.

The more he performed and recorded, the stronger the music became, just as in basketball. The following year, Tisdale and "Fifth Quarter" released In the Zone, which remained on the Billboard chart for 30 weeks and climbed into the top ten. "My second record is where I stepped it up and started to grow as a musician," said Tisdale. "I was starting to see that every time I played for a crowd or made a record, I was getting better and better."

As his music side-career became less of a hobby and more of his professional life and future, his two loves began to merge. That merging became evident in his basketball-flavored album titles, ball playing allusions and in the spoken word interludes on In the Zone. Those were all signs that a profound new direction was coming down Wayman Tisdale's road.

Decisions, Tisdale's major label debut, found him at a professional and personal crossroads. It wasn't like the famed crossroads traversed by blues legend Robert Johnson where he made a deal with the devil on a dusty and deserted country lane. Tisdale's crossroads was not such a sinister pact, but a life altering personal choice. His passion for music was surpassing his love for basketball. He knew what he had to do. As he prepared to make one of the toughest decisions in his life, he lost his rock-solid role model and #1 fan. Wayman's father. Rev. Louis Tisdale passed away unexpectedly at 74 years old on March 28, 1997.

"My father lived his life by example," said Tisdale. "He always stuck by us and showed us a lot of love. I had 33 years with him and I miss him a lot. It's a great feeling to know he loved me and I'm sure he's smiling on me."

Although he was the baby out of six children, Wayman ended up towering over his siblings. The one thing they did share in equal measure was the inner strength and moral values instilled by their parents. Tisdale says his strong family upbringing is the reason why he has managed to avoid the pitfalls in sports and music. While some of his NBA cohorts were busy gaining "bad boy" reputations for their antics on and off the court, Tisdale was content to do his job and play his part in supporting the team. He has brought that same quiet dedication to his life and music.

"All I do goes back to family," said Tisdale. "I had a good upbringing and great parents. By no means am I an angel, but I have avoided those controversial things in sports and music because of my beliefs and trust in God."

After his father's untimely passing, Tisdale felt it was time to devote himself fully to his music. Where he previously had his father to lean on for all the big and small choices in his life, Wayman had to make this one on his own. He retired from the NBA and made a conscious effort to focus more on the crafting of the songs for his third and pivotal album.

"On my new record, I am better able to tell a story and bring each song to a climax," said Tisdale. "I spent more time and energy focusing on the sounds and style of each song. From the last one to this album, I've found out who I am as a bassist and vocalist and I'm growing more comfortable as a performer."

Tisdale's commitment to the construction of his songs and the lyrical content is found in every passage of Decisions. The entire record flows from the first song to the last like a novel or Broadway play with different scenes and characters that embody the spirit of the album. From the opening track Breakfast With Tiffany to the funk-o-rama closer Miles Away, each song has a distinct beginning followed by the introduction of characters and telling of the story.

With its soulfully placed slap and pop funk bass and tender love songs, world music appeal and gospel influenced passages, Decisions is a snapshot of Wayman Tisdale's musical and personal past and present. It is also a shining light on the direction his music will travel in the future. "My level of personal satisfaction is higher now," said Tisdale. "When I can get people to sing along and dance or hum and tap their feet, it is incredibly gratifying. That's even better than a turn around jumper."

If his past is any indicator of his future, his run in the music business should be long and fruitful. Dribbling and scoring for a living is now replaced by funkin' and groovin'. The fans don't wear those big foam fingers or paint their face to support the team any more, but they are still as rabidly devoted to Tisdale's direction as he is. He will probably never be in the center of a lurid sex or criminal scandal and will probably never be in the headlines for choking his boss or kicking a cameraman. Dennis Rodman will be elected leader of the Mormon Church before Wayman Tisdale's name will be connected to a drug bust or any of the dozens of typical music star pitfalls.

As he wrote in the liner notes of "Decisions: In everyone's life, there are many times when decisions are to be made, whether job related or real life situations. Our lives revolve around choices; hopefully the correct ones. I've been faced with major decisions since the age of 15, and with God's guidance, most of my decisions have been good ones. I have decided to enter the next phase of my life. My prayer and goal is for this career to be on the next level.''

Wayman Tisdale's life and music has progressed like a well-coached basketball game where the pressure to win and perform is as high as the stakes. Wayman, the star player, could not have been the star without all the assists from team mates, direction of coaches and guidance from wise parents. He was able to drive up the middle or hit a turn around jumper only after he avoided the penalties and blocked shots along the way. His cautious optimism helped him know in life and in his career when it was time to make his move and go for the score.

"I am very conscious not to take credit for what I do," said Tisdale. "It is all rooted in family and grounded firmly in God. I had great parents that helped show me the way and I knew everything would turn out alright. From being the #1 basketball player in the nation in high school to a gold medal in the Olympics and both my professional careers, God is smiling on me."

Interview courtesy of

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Wayman Tisdale
  • Subtitle: Slam Dunk Rhythm
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