june 2009

Wayman Tisdale

'Just The Meat and Potatoes'

Wayman Tisdale Loses Battle With Cancer, But Lives On

By David McGee

'I'm not the kind of musician who can just go out and play music and not have a purpose to what I'm doing. There are songwriters I admire. I love James Taylor, Babyface. I've tried to pattern my music along the lines of very easygoing and meaningful. Not a lot of screaming, not a lot of yelling when those guys sing, and in the same way I don't do a lot of licks or a lot of chord progressions. Just the meat and potatoes.' -Wayman Tisdale in TheBluegrassSpecial.com, July 2008

"This is a tough one for anyone who knew Wayman—to know him was indeed to love him. No one made people feel good like Wayman Tisdale, that smile, that spirit about him, that sense of determination and focus. He had this way of making everyone feel special. He was huge in every way and took the biggest bites out of life. I feel so fortunate to have gotten to spend so many wonderful times with him, to share the stage, to laugh, to record together, just to hang out, but even if you didn't know him, there was so much love in what he offered the world that you couldn't help but love him back. And I can't recall anyone fighting cancer the way he fought it—he was a hero on the court, on the stage, in his fight to live and in everything he did. I send my sincerest, heartfelt prayers of comfort to his wife Regina, the four wonderful Tisdale kids, his family, friends and the millions of fans who adored him."—Saxophonist Dave Koz, a regular guest on Wayman Tisdale's recordings

Seemingly recovered from the bone cancer that had struck him in 2007, Wayman Tisdale succumbed to the disease in his home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 15. He was 44, and is survived by his wife Regina, and four children. A report in a local paper indicated Tisdale had been rushed to the hospital on the morning of his death, suffering breathing difficulties related to chronic esophagitis, a side effect of his cancer treatment. He was said to have lost considerable weight over the previous five weeks, when he had been unable to eat solid food. In August 2008 he had part of his right leg amputated in an effort to halt the spread of his cancer; following the surgery, he posted a note on his website, writing, "This may sound drastic, but I have put it in God's hands and now have peace, knowing that this is the best way to put this disease in check. I have complete faith that with the Lord's blessings this surgery will eliminate the cancer from my body and I'll soon be back on the road doing what I do best."

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A TNT halftime report on Wayman Tisdale's Courage by Jim Huber; includes an interview with Toby Keith, and footage of Wayman playing solo acoustic for his church congregation

Born in Fort Worth, TX, raised in Tulsa, Tisdale's first love was music—he took up the guitar as a child after seeing Elvis Presley perform. He took a more serious interest in basketball after experiencing a growth spurt in eight grade and finding out he could dunk the ball. After starring at Booker T. Washington High School and gaining McDonald's All-American honors, he chose Oklahoma University from among 200 schools wooing him, and became the first player in history to be named All-American as a freshman, sophomore and junior, and the first player in Oklahoma University history to have his jersey retired His devotion to OU was so complete that when he had his leg amputated, he requested his prosthetic leg bear the OU logo and be colored Sooner crimson. "I am a Sooner through and through," he told this reporter last year. He was on the 1984 U.S. Olympic gold medal team coached by Bobby Knight. Drafted by the Indianapolis Pacers, he played professionally for 12 years for three teams—Indianapolis, the Sacramento King and the Phoenix Suns, averaging more than 15 points and six rebounds per game for his career. Two years before retiring from basketball, he released his first album, Power Forward, on the Motown label and went on to record seven more, with 2001's Face to Face reaching the top spot on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart. In 2002 he was honored with a Legacy Tribute Award by the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. His last album, Rebound, was released this past June, and told this reporter he had already finished his next album as well.

"It's a funk album, all vocal, a throwback, old school '70s record that you're gonna love," he said. "It's just called The Funk Record. So get ready."

A release date for the album has yet to be announced. A report on CNN said Tisdale was preparingn to begin recording an album with jazz guitarist Norman Brown at the time of his death.

To his music he brought the same discipline, determination and joy that he brought to his athletic endeavors. He was never ashamed to be called a "smooth jazz" artist, because beautiful melodies and graceful rhythms brought out the best in him as musician. He was one of the few jazz bassists in history to employ his instrument as a lead voice in his band, pointing to lyrical bassist frontmen such as Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller as inspirations for his style. Ultimately he earned the respect of his peers and an enthusiastic fan base for his work. Tisdale claimed his confidence in his musical ability stemmed from lessons imparted by his father, the Rev. Louis Tisdale, a prominent and beloved preacher—for 21 years he occupied the pulpit of the Friendship Church, and following his death from a heart attack in 1997 the city named a portion of the downtown parkway after him. As Tisdale revealed during his interview with TheBluegrassSpecial.com, during the frenzy of college recruiting, his father took him aside and offered some words of guidance that the basketball star would find relevant to his musical pursuits: "My dad said, 'God has blessed you and you don't have to follow tradition. Tradition will follow you, wherever you go. You're the one that's going to carve your own way because you're gifted in so many areas. Tradition will follow you.' That's what gave me the encouragement to go to Oklahoma and become the leader. Same musically. Everybody says no way the bass can be a lead instrument, and there's no way you can make a living, especially in jazz, playing lead bass. Once again, I took the lesson of my father—tradition will follow me—and there he goes again. You have to believe in yourself, and you have to know that everybody is not going to see your vision for what you have and for what life has given you. You have to show 'em. At the end of the day it's been a lesson I've lived by, all my life."

A crowd pleaser on and off the court, Tisdale for several years was the host of a smooth jazz cruise, and video from those events illustrates how his presence could light up a room, including footage included here shot this past January on what would be his last cruise.

Faith and family were the focus of Wayman Tisdale's life. He and his wife Regina raised four children, the oldest being 24-year-old daughter Danielle, the youngest another daughter, 13-year-old Gabrielle, with daughter Tiffany (20) and son Wayman II(17) in between. When the crisis hit, the family circled the wagons to get dad through the dark times ("the kids really had to grow up under this whole situation"). All of the Tisdales leaned on their faith as Wayman made his slow rebound—what else to call it?—from the treatment ordeal.

"Oh, man, if I didn't have faith I wouldn't be here today," Tisdale said then. "There were many nights I wanted to give up, but it was faith that kept me going, kept me strong. Chemo is a rough ordeal, and if you don't have a faith to know that there's something waiting for you on the other side, you'll give up. A lot of people do."

A Town Remembers: Tulsa Says Goodbye to Wayman Tisdale

Wayman Tisdale FuneralAs 4,000 mourners made their way to the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa on May 21 to celebrate the life of Wayman Tisdale, the favorite son's casket was riding in a carriage pulled by two dignified Clydesdales, wending their way from the funeral home to the arena, through streets Tisdale knew well, lined with people whose lives he had touched. When Tisdale's casket was carried aloft into the arena by 10 pallbearers, applause erupted from the crowd. Tisdale's band played a high-spirited set ahead of a three-hour, 40-minute service that included a moving 33-minute eulogy from his brother Weldon ("Wayman would never want any of us to leave this place hurting. He meant for everyone to feel the same joy that he had. Even in his sickness, he wanted you to feel good. I thank God today for the life of my brother."); a reading of an Old Testament verse by former Los Angeles Lakers forward and L.A. minister A.C. Green, who said, "What I loved about (Wayman) was his love for God, his love for his family, his honoring of his wife and how he loved his children"; a raucous, crowd-rousing gospel workout on "This Is The Day" by Fred Hammond; and a powerful rendition of "Angel Flying Too Close To the Ground" by Tisdale's friend Toby Keith, a former OU athlete himself, and a country superstar, who appears on the Rebound album singing a hearty rendition of Barry White's "Never Gonna Give You Up," which so far stands as the first professional musical collaboration between former OU athletes.

"I'm honored to be here today to celebrate the life of my friend, Wayman Tisdale," Keith told the BOK crowd. "They asked me to talk about him, but my connection with him was through our love of music. I was honored to get to record with him, I was honored to be in his studio, in his presence, jam with him at everything from Super Bowl functions to just sitting around playing the guitar. And, we had so much...we had so many big plans, but every time I tried to say goodbye to him, he never would let me. He wanted to...he was doing enough hurting for all of us. And I thought I'd do a song, I wrote a song for him, but there's no way I could possibly get through it here today. I chose another selection..."

Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor said, "He carried the Tisdale name with a high calling—a calling of taking care of others (and) for being someone that others looked up to in life. His impact will follow for generations to come."

Among the multitude of past and current OU athletes and coaches who attended, Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims spoke for all at a press conference when he said, "I'm just here on behalf of some of the Sooner Nation to show respect for him and his family. May he rest in peace."

"God, we thank you for the days, the years and the hours that we had with Wayman," said the Rev. Sherwood C. Carthen of Sacramento, CA, who was Tisdale's pastor when he was with the Kings. Carthen read a final statement Wayman had given him, and it proved to be the most eloquent testimony of all.

"I have fought a good fight. Not just any fight. A good fight. I did my very, very best. I have finished my course. I enrolled in the University of Regina over twenty years ago. I majored in Regina-ism and Family Excellence. There were days when I got called into the dean's office and threatened to be put on academic probation. But, I flashed my pearly whites and began to play my music and blessed my family. And, once again, I was on the honor roll. I kept the faith. I kept the faith through the longest losing streak in NBA history with the Sacramento Kings. I kept the faith in '07 when I found out I had been diagnosed with cancer. I kept the faith after losing a limb. I even kept the faith through all the rounds of treatment. And, now I say to you a crown is laid up for me. A crown that only the King of my life gives to me."

During a private ceremony after the funeral, Wayman Tisdale was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery.

The Tisdale family asks that in lieu of flowers that donations be made to the Wayman Tisdale Foundation, which provides funding for prosthetic limbs for those who cannot afford them.

To donate:
Wayman Tisdale Foundation
c/o Paul Samuels
Morgan Stanley
2200 S. Utica Place, Suite 500
Tulsa, OK 74114
918.582-3211 or 800.877-8651

Cards and letters can be sent to:
Regina K. Tisdale
c/o Friendship Church
1709 N. Madison Ave.
Tulsa, OK 74106

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Part 1 of a two-part report on Wayman Tisdale's funeral, as aired on Tulsa's Channel 9

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Part 2 of Channel 9 News's two-part report on Wayman Tisdale's funeral

Wayman Tisdale was profiled in the July 2008 issue of TheBluegrassSpecial.com. Read the story here.

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