September 2008

Wayman Tisdale: Back on the Offense

Wayman Tisdale’s 44 years of life so far have been the stuff of inspiration. Filled with amazing highs, thanks to an all-star pro basketball career that segued into the life of a smooth-jazz star, Tisdale suffered a setback early last year when doctors discovered a cancerous cyst. He’s kept a brave face with the media and with his fans. He’s always stressed the positive: the man with the big grin and the hearty laugh says his health challenge has made him a better man. There were certainly some dark times, though, and hopefully Tisdale will share some of his thoughts in an autobiography titled Face the Music that he hopes to publish in 2009. He’s already relayed his struggle in part on his new CD, Rebound (Rendezvous).

If you’re familiar with basketball, you know Tisdale helped define the power-forward position. A three-time All-American at the University of Oklahoma, he was an integral part of the U.S.A.’s gold-winning basketball team at the 1984 Olympics. He spent 12 years in the NBA, averaging more than 15 points and six rebounds per game with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns.

But the superstar player had his eye on his next career even while pounding the hardwood. He always dreamed of a musician’s life while growing up, playing his guitar and bass left-handed. In 1995, while still pulling down rebounds, he released his debut CD, fittingly titled Power Forward. Tisdale immediately found support from smooth-jazz radio with his upbeat, R&B-tinged tunes. He became a core player on the smooth-jazz charts with numerous hit singles, including several number ones, over the course of his next seven albums, including the gospel project 21 Days.

Before he’d make his eighth CD, however, Tisdale had to make it through February 2007. While living in Southern California, where the Oklahoma native had purchased a second home to mingle in the heart of the smooth-jazz industry, the six-foot-nine-inch Tisdale was feeling good after undergoing outpatient Lap-Band surgery to drop at least 100 pounds after ballooning to 365. One day, while taking it easy at home, Tisdale fell and broke his right leg. While treating him, doctors found the cancerous cyst. Following a five-month regimen of chemotherapy, Tisdale underwent an eight-hour knee-replacement surgery.

“At the end of the day, after breaking my leg and going through what I went through, I thank God that I broke the leg and found out what was going on,” says Tisdale, who proclaims he’s 100 percent cured. “It’s still an ongoing process, but I’m encouraged and staying positive.” Tisdale, 44, now lives exclusively in Tulsa, Okla., where he and his wife, Regina, have four children and one granddaughter. “I’m taking care of things out here on my farm, just enjoying life in the slow lane,” he says. “L.A. just got to be a little too fast for me.”

Tisdale titled his eighth CD Rebound, for obvious reasons. Released in June, it begins with a chuckling Tisdale saying, “When life tries to get you down, it’s the perfect time for a rebound. It’s my turn. Let’s take it to another level.” The CD, his third in a row to debut at number one on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart, is another mixture of funky stuff and mellow stuff that shows his growing jazz sensibilities. Tisdale makes it a point to always include a cover song for his old-school fans, and here it’s a delightful take on Barry White’s “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up,” with good friend and fellow Oklahoma native and country star Toby Keith handling vocals. “First, people have to grasp that it’s Toby Keith, and then after they get that, he blows them away with the way he sings,” says Tisdale with another chuckle.

Tisdale is now back on the touring circuit, where he makes it a point to share his story of recovery with each audience. He says he wants people to be encouraged by his story, especially those who may be going through tough times of their own. Tisdale will also be back as musical director and host for the annual Smooth Jazz Cruise departing in January from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. That’s where he will introduce the band Wallstreet, the winner of his “Wayman’s Challenge” competition to discover an opening band for select shows. Tisdale is also expected to produce a CD for the band. “It’s always exciting to get a chance to find new bands and try to keep live music playing and keep things happening,” he says. Tisdale is not unfamiliar with developing talent, as his Tisway Productions has produced such artists as smooth-jazz saxophonist Tom Braxton.

Tisdale is already focused on his next CD, which he says will be even more funky than usual. He’s also working on his first holiday record, which has a tentative title of ’Tis the Season.

“When it comes to life, you have to look at it as everybody’s going to go through some things, but you just have to know the end will be all right,” says Tisdale, who credits his strong faith in keeping him centered. “You have to stay encouraged, stay focused and stay prayerful in everything you’re going through. God is going to make a way for you.”

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