Wayman Tisdale, “The Wayman Tisdale Story” (CD/DVD review)

(recently published in JazzTimes; direct link)

Wayman Tisdale, “The Wayman Tisdale Story” (Mack Avenue)

If not for the unhappy ending, The Wayman Tisdale Story, a film included in the CD/DVD package of the same name, would make for a terrific inspirational feature film: Oklahoma kid from meager means plays in the band at his preacher father’s church, finds his way to Olympics and NBA basketball fame, quits to pursue his musical passion full-time, and is stricken with a rare form of bone cancer. Whether on the court, in the studio, onstage, with family and friends, or even in interviews with music journalists (including this one), the technically agile bass guitarist came off as a force of positive energy. “It’s a test of wills,” he says in the film, vowing to win his fight against osteosarcoma. Sadly, Tisdale, devoted husband and father of four, passed away in 2009 at age 44, a little more than two years after his diagnosis, and a year after the release of his buoyant Rebound CD, which featured his friend Toby Keith on a remake of Barry White’s “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up.”

Keith, heard on the new, appropriately sentimental “Cryin’ for Me (Wayman’s Song),” a mash-up of contemporary country and smooth jazz, is one of several musicians, athletes and family members interviewed for the film, along with saxophonist Dave Koz, bassist Marcus Miller, guitarist Jonathan Butler and basketball players Michael Jordan, A.C. Green and Sam Perkins. The narrative skips around in time, incorporating some re-enactments as well as footage from his last concert, and sequences detailing how he adjusted to his artificial leg. “I said, ‘You got my leg but you can’t get my spirit,’ ” Tisdale says at one point.

The CD offers a sampler of mostly uptempo pieces from across the 13-year recording career of an untrained musician who played his five-string bass left handed and upside down. His tunes, including such pieces as George Duke-penned opener “Tell It Like It TIS,” “Way Up” and the previously unreleased Jeff Lorber song “Slam Dunk,” often matched low-slung funk and R&B with bouncy melodies, all with his bright-toned bass out front. He had a feel for party anthems like “Let’s Ride” and ballads, too, as demonstrated by “Gabrielle” and his “It’s Alright,” an earnest song of encouragement, which, in light of what’s happened, is deeply poignant. Wayman’s spirit and unique instrumental talents are sorely missed.

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