Wayman Tisdale: Way Up!

Woodrow Wilkins By

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I —Wayman Tisdale
Wayman TisdaleAs a power forward, Wayman Tisdale became the first player at the University of Oklahoma to have his jersey number, 23, retired. He went on to become a member of the USA gold medal basketball team and a 12-year star in the NBA. His other passion, music, has led to a successful second career with the electric bass. While Tisdale considers his music to be jazz, or perhaps more to the point, funk-jazz, his early influences include, among others, Earth, Wind & Fire. In fact, it was one of that group's most successful ballads, "Can't Hide Love, that Tisdale covered early in his recording career, keeping faithful to the melody of the original, but delivering it in a way that's all Tisdale.

With his new release, Way Up! (Rendezvous Entertainment, 2006), Tisdale continues building on his mixed repertoire of original music and cover tunes—all adding that element of funk that says "Wayman is in the house. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, and now a resident of California, Tisdale draws some inspiration from his family. However, his biggest musical influence was bassist Stanley Clarke.

"He was my first, when it comes to any kind of bass learning, Tisdale says. "I was intrigued by his style of making melodies with the bass. He acknowledges admiration for other bassists of the 1970s, such as Bootsy Collins and EW&F's Verdine White, but not nearly as much as Clarke. "All of them had a little bit of influence on me, but Stanley sounded like he was speaking when he was on bass. It's more like a singer than any other instrument.

Many bassists, even as bandleaders, tend to carry the rhythm, with occasional solos. Tisdale, however, carries the melody and, depending on the song, invites another bassist to play the rhythm. Tisdale literally makes his bass sing, particularly on high notes. He laughs off the suggestion that bassists who play that way should change instruments. "I've always thought that there have been enough low-end, bottom bass players, he said. "So for me to [not] make a record like everybody else, I went to a piccolo setup. It's a five-string bass, but with extra long piccolo strings.

Way Up! features Tisdale with a host of guest musicians. Although there's no real sense of a band, it hardly matters because of the production quality. Some big names are among the guests, including several bandleaders. Among them are singer Eric Benet, percussionist Lenny Castro, keyboardist George Duke, guitarist Tony Maiden, woodwind multi-instrumentalist Dave Koz, saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and keyboardists Bob James and Jeff Lorber.

"It just sort of worked out that way, Tisdale says. "Being in Los Angeles had a lot to do with it—I'm around everybody. Tisdale says collaborating with Duke on "Tell It Like It Tis was one of his most thrilling experiences. "One of the most memorable moments of my life was getting to play with one of the greatest funketeers of the world. He and Stanley created the jazz-funk sound.

Wayman Tisdale While Way Up! has some excellent original material, one of the more attention-getting tracks is the cover of Kool & the Gang's "Get Down on It. Tisdale says he doesn't shy away from covers, despite some fans' misgivings. "First of all, it has to be my personality, he said. "'Get Down on It,' I don't think it's ever been covered in the jazz range. I used to use that song as a warm-up. I was able to do it like it was nothing, he says, laughing. "But people buy my record for the whole record. I believe in doing 11 singles; I want every one of them to be singles. In choosing "Get Down on It, Tisdale says he wants younger listeners to experience music the way he experienced it at that age. "I try to take you back. I know the demographics of my audience range from 25 and up, and maybe younger than that. I try to take them back to the days they did them funny dances.

Though a jazz album, Way Up! revisits the funk era of bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament and, of course, the Clarke/Duke Project. Tisdale skillfully keeps one foot in the present while refreshing the past without sounding nostalgic.

Selected Discography

Wayman Tisdale, Way Up! (Rendezvous Entertainment, 2006)
Wayman Tisdale, Hang Time (Rendezvous Entertainment, 2004)
Wayman Tisdale, Presents 21 Days (Tisway Music, 2003)
Wayman Tisdale, Face to Face (Atlantic, 2001)
Wayman Tisdale, In the Zone (Motown, 1996)
Wayman Tisdale, Power Forward (MoJazz, 1995)

Photo Credit:
Courtesy of Wayman Tisdale

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