Wayman Tisdale could be the world's biggest Renaissance Man. The 6-foot-9 forward helped Team USA to an Olympic gold medal in 1984, was the second pick of the 1985 NBA Draft and averaged 15.3 points a game in 12 seasons with the Pacers, Kings and Suns. Nowadays Tisdale stands tall as a nationally touring bassist, playing what he describes as "smooth urban funk." How skilled is Tisdale on bass? In a recent interview, Jamie Foxx named him as the bassist in his dream band. Tisdale, who made his first album when he was with the Phoenix Suns in 1995, has had four records reach Billboard's contemporary jazz Top 10. The 42-year-old's seventh recording, Way Up, was released on June 28.
On how he learned to play bass: "I never had any kind of formal training. I started off with gospel, playing in church, playing by ear. Then it got off into the funky stuff. I used to listen to the Gap Band and Isley Brothers and Smokey Robinson growing up, so I was really a big-time old-schooler. Then it got off into the jazz thing in college when I started listening to the David Sanborns and the George Dukes and everything else. [In college] I didn't like to go out and hang out till 2 and 3 and 4 in the morning. I would just go to the back to the room and practice bass. Just sit up in my room and just play tunes."
On deciding to switch from being a pro athlete to being a pro musician: "I always aspired to do it, but I never knew I had the talent until my 10th year in the league. I said, you know what? I may have a chance at doing this music thing for real. Then my first record came out and sold like crazy. But that's not the reason I retired [from the NBA].... When my love for basketball dwindled, the love for music took over."
On some of the big-name musicians he's played with: "I've been on stages with Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, Steven Tyler.... I've been so blessed and privileged to play with some of the world's best musicians."
On Jamie Foxx naming him as the bassist in his dream band: "I've never met him, but I was really floored when he talked about me being his favorite bassist. I was like, What!? Oh, my goodness, this is awesome! It was a boost in my arm and made my year. I was like, All right, man, this is what I'm talkin' about. Just when you think nobody's listening and then you get a comment like that ... that's awesome."
On the similarities between his style as a basketball player and his style as a musician: "If you needed me down low [in basketball], I could bang and get my nose dirty. I would love to do that as well as finesse my way around the hoop very easily. I do that with my music. Sometimes it's really hard funk and sometimes it comes down to some smooth beautiful ballads. It just depends on what I'm in the mood for."
On jamming with former NBA All-Star Terry Cummings after games: "Terry Cummings was probably the most influential person to get me involved in writing music. I always played, but I didn't write as much. We'd play [basketball] and give each other elbows all night, and at the end of the day we'd go out and play music. He played keyboards and he sung. He was a good singer, a great keyboard player, and we hit it off right away. We've been talking about working together [on an album] for years. We haven't gotten the chance because when I make a record I'm way out in L.A. and Terry's somewhere else."
On his NBA teammates' reaction to his musical side: "First, when I was going through [making my first album], a lot them were like, 'What are you doin', Tis? Oh, man, come on, Tis, quit your day job!' and I took all the brunt of the jokes. But when they first heard it come out, they were just floored. Everybody was like, 'Man, you did it, I can't believe you did it.' Nobody knew how serious I took it. Nobody knew how serious of a player I was. But I wasn't the type of person who was going to be like, 'I'll show you, I'll show you.' That wasn't my deal."
On NBA players coming to watch his shows: "Oh, man, there've been lots of 'em. A lot of referees, a lot of players. Magic Johnson has been to my show, Michael Jordan is at shows. It's overwhelming when you see so many guys coming out. That's saying something when these are guys who you have fought against in the trenches and then they come pay to see you do something totally different. When my record first came out, Jordan was one of the first people to come up to me and say, 'Man, you did it. You did it. You always told me,' 'cause we go way back to the Pan American Games the year before the Olympics in '84. When he saw that I had a record, he said he had bought three of 'em already."
On the difference between working with basketball players and musicians: "Musicians are a little bit more temperamental about certain subjects. You can't talk to another musician about if he's playing something wrong. You have to definitely approach him delicately. A basketball player, you can say, 'Get your ass over here and play D!' It's a whole different mentality in basketball. Musicians, you have to ease your way in there ... make suggestions like, 'Why don't you play it this way?'"
On his goal for the future: "Winning a Grammy, that's my goal. I look at being on that stage and being in that arena and winning a Grammy for what I do as the equivalent of winning a gold medal."
On the musical equivalent of hitting a game-winning shot: "When the crowd asks you for an encore and you give them an encore and they're still asking for you for more and you don't have anything else to play, that's the game-winner right there. You've given them all you can give them."