By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
A well-traveled pair of children's high-top sneakers
sits atop the Hammond B-3 organ. The organ itself is at the
bottom of the back stairs, in the utility room next to a
rope rack where dresses are drying. The main studio is
upstairs, in a converted maid's quarters — one room filled
to the brim with keyboards, bass guitars and high-dollar
recording equipment. A hall closet has become a vocal
booth, just a few doors down from the kids' bedrooms,
emanates TV sounds and the faint odor of socks.
This is the environment in which a jolly giant, Wayman
Tisdale, recorded his latest major-label jazz record. The
disc, "Decisions," is the first record of his music career
that isn't titled with a basketball pun — the previous two
were "Power Forward" and "In the Zone" — and the first made in
the wake of his professional basketball career. "This
album is my coming out party," Tisdale says, breaking into
his court-wide grin.
The decisions that brought Tisdale to his current
situation were weighty but welcome. He launched his
basketball career at the University of Oklahoma, where he
was a two-time All-American. He was chosen as the second
overall pick in the 1985 NBA draft and set off on a 12-year
run through the NBA, playing four years each with Indiana,
Sacramento and Phoenix.
Through with hoops
A dozen seasons were plenty, though, and Tisdale bowed
out of the sport earlier this year. In our interview at
Wayman's south Tulsa home last week, Tisdale said his
hoopster career almost went on too long.
"I knew coming into the league I wanted to play about
eight years. I never thought I would make 12," Tisdale said.
"When I didn't enjoy coming to the gym each day and staying
late, I knew it was time to let it go."
Tisdale's exit from basketball was hardly retirement. In
fact, he immediately turned back to the work he always
loved, the work that sustained the low points of his
sporting career, the work that would not leave him alone:
writing, playing and recording modern jazz.
Long before Tisdale learned layups, he learned licks.
His father, the Rev. Louis Tisdale, bought his sons Mickey
Mouse guitars when Wayman was young, but Wayman was the
only sibling who didn't "start using them as a hockey stick
or a baseball bat." He took to the instrument and worked at
it until he'd broken four of the six strings. With two
left, the only parts of a song Wayman could play were the
bass lines. So Wayman became a bass player.
Then one summer, Tisdale grew two feet. Suddenly, his
"I wasn't comfortable, you know, standing a foot taller
than everyone in the (church) choir, even the director," he
said, "so I thought, 'I've got to find something I can put
my energy into that will suit me.' "
Jazz on the sidelines
Onto the court he went. But music was never put away,
only put aside. As coaches told Wayman repeatedly that he
would be in the NBA one day, Tisdale lumbered home from
practice and followed along with a guitar to Stanley Clarke
records ("That's where I got my style," he says). He kept his
hand in something musical throughout his college and
professional basketball career. By the time he began
playing with the Phoenix Suns, he also had landed a record
contract with MoJazz, a Motown subsidiary.
"That's when the ribbing got pretty tough," Tisdale said.
"These guys see this multimillion-dollar basketball player
getting on the bus with this big bass, and they say, 'Oh,
man, here comes Michael Jackson.' I laughed it off and just
said, 'Someday you'll see. You'll see.' When my first
record came out, a lot of those guys came up to me all
wide-eyed, saying, 'Man, I can't believe you did it. And
it's cool.' "
Getting that deal was a tough sell, at first. Record
company scouts tended to groan when a pro athlete wandered
into their offices. "Being in the NBA was my worst
nightmare as far as being taken seriously in music," Tisdale
said. "You walk in and say, 'Hi, I'm Wayman, and I'm in the
NBA,' and they think, 'Oh no, another vanity project,' or
they hear the tape and think, 'Is it Milli Vanilli?' This
was right after Deion Sanders had done his thing and a
bunch of other players and done rap records that were
"I was going to put it out myself, but a friend took my
demo down to Motown. They loved it, and the last thing he
told them was who I was. They were sold."
The two MoJazz albums met with rave reviews. When MoJazz
dissolved, Atlantic's godfather of jazz, Ahmet Ertegun (who
signed the quintessential jazz bassist, Charles Mingus),
flew Wayman to New York, once again defying his own
promises to retire just to sign Tisdale to Atlantic. "I
couldn't believe I just stepped up from one big label to
another," Tisdale said. "He kept telling me I had the
capability to cross-over." What Ertegun heard in
Tisdale's "Decisions" demos was not just the overriding
smooth jazz, but gospel, adult contemporary and R&B. The
songs are easygoing gems that are somehow more than jazz.
Wayman even sings on a handful of radio-ready tracks.
"If I can't sing the song when I'm done with it, I won't
do it," Tisdale said. "I'm melody and hook oriented. That's
why I differ from most smooth-jazz players, I think. It's
feel-good music. It's got gospel, Latin, R&B — that was my
goal. The one common denominator in the whole thing is the
Tisdale is confident he's made the right "Decisions," and
he plans to be as much of a musical star as he was a sports
"A person who's been on top knows how to get on top
again," he said. "The Grammies — that's my goal. Basketball
taught me what it takes to get on top every day, and music
won't be any different."
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.