Channeling the Joy of Wayman Tisdale & Houston Person
In this crazy situation that we are in right now, we need to feel the joy of Wayman Tisdale and Houston Person.
Our Take: What Would Wayman Want …
Us To Do Now?
Yesterday, marked the 11th anniversary of the death of Wayman Tisdale. We have discussed him many times before and I have told you how much I loved that man and how he could fill up a room with his smile, his laughter, his energy and, of course, his 6-foot-9, 275-pound frame. But, when it hit me that the anniversary of his death was upon us again, a whole new set of questions came to mind. In this crazy situation that we are in right now, “What Would Wayman Want … Us To Do Now?”
For those unfamiliar with Wayman’s story, or for those who just enjoy hearing it again, Wayman was a basketball star — a 3-time All-American forward for the Oklahoma Sooners, an Olympic Gold Medalist and a star for the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns during a 12-season NBA career. A bass player, Tisdale made his jazz recording debut in 1995 with “Power Forward.” He released eight albums, all of which were Top 10 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Albums chart, including three that went to No. 1 — “Face to Face” in 2001, “Way Up!” in 2006 and his most recent album in 2008, “Rebound,” which features a cover of Barry White’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” with country singer Toby Keith on vocals.
Wayman died on May 15, 2009, at 44 years old after a two-year battle with cancer.
Somewhere in the midst of all that award-winning activities, Wayman was the host of The Smooth Jazz Cruise for four years. In fact, Marcus Miller came on his first sailing of The Smooth Jazz Cruise in order to assist Wayman, who was beginning to face health challenges. Marcus, of course, had been the host of The North Sea Jazz Cruise and The Playboy Jazz Cruise as well as a performer on The Jazz Cruise. Wayman and Marcus were special friends, each one coveting the skills of the other. That resulted in one of the great barter events ever: Wayman taught basketball to Marcus and Marcus taught bass to Wayman.
As for what his impact upon us today would be, I have no doubt that Wayman would be the No. 1 cheerleader for supporting any kind of return to live music. He would be on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or any other digital medium that would allow music to be performed and enjoyed. He would be smiling, encouraging us all to be brave, challenging us to help others and allaying our fears and concerns. When we return to cruising, he would be at the entry welcoming each and every guest, chatting it up, taking photos and having fun. Embarkation would be delayed 4 hours, but every guest would have his or her moment with the big man.
If I had to name one emotion that the pandemic has all but eliminated, it would be “joy,” Pure, unadulterated joy. The kind of feeling that your whole body feels without guilt or regret. The travails that face many of us today preclude such feelings. Yet, Wayman would have helped us get there, for more than anything, Wayman was filled with joy and brought joy to others.
As famously offered by Mark Twain, “The healthiest response to life is joy.” We need that now. Wayman would have brought it just as he led Oklahoma to Big 8 championships, the Olympic team in rebounding, and the smooth jazz world in record sales. Man, do I, and so many others, miss that man!
Following Houston’s Lead
Not sure how this happened, but, as I was writing about Wayman Tisdale, my mind moved to Houston Person. In many respects they have nothing in common other than being musicians. So, why did I go there? It is because Houston displays that same level of irrepressible optimism and joy that Wayman did, only in a very different way and manner.
There is the Houston Person on-stage persona. Serious, understated (just like his playing) and reverent. The other side of Houston is hilarious. Warm, funny, playful and more. He is beginning to let that side show, but the man is so loving and warm. I wish everyone could have the opportunity to share in that light.
My mother and Houston were great friends. He would send her notes, cards and candy. He would call periodically as well. When Mom died, I had to beg Houston not to cancel some gigs in favor of coming to St. Louis for the funeral. He still calls, asks how we are doing, wondering about how Mom would have handled the pandemic.
Watching the other musicians on the ship interact with Houston is fascinating. There’s no other way to say it, but he is the heart and soul of the musicians. Always a gentleman. Always ready to play and perform. Always respectful of the audience and the other musicians. His goodness breeds joy in others. His goodness affirms their commitment to the music and to the respect they have for the bandstand. To be that influential without needing words, directives or commands is the sign of a true leader. The others follow his lead because they know that it is the right thing to do.
So, how do we follow Houston’s lead? We move forward like he does, one step at a time, helping others to do the same and trying to eek out whatever joy we can out of whatever it is that we are doing at the moment. Just like Wayman, Houston refuses to believe that the world owes him something. He believes that he must earn whatever he gets out of life and that true joy is what he gives others. My lifelong memory of Houston will be watching him help Freddy Cole through a “senior moment” on stage. He did it with such kindness and warmth, but, most of all, with respect. Respect, dignity, authenticity — traits like these cannot be bought, take years to earn and seconds to lose.
As we move forward to the next step in our predicament, remember the effusive joy of Wayman Tisdale and the quiet, reserved joy of Houston Person. Following either man is a good choice to make.
Our Take is written by Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Show Goes On … Online!
Two New Episodes of the Jazz Cruise Conversations Podcast!
Our Jazz Cruise Conversations podcast series now features 45 fascinating interviews with the biggest stars from every corner of the jazz world. You can listen to every episode wherever you get your podcasts, including iTunes and Spotify.
In the most recent episode, recorded on The Jazz Cruise earlier this year, organist Joey DeFrancesco interviews his friend and bandmate — the legendary jazz drummer Billy Hart — about his long and illustrious career. Billy talks about growing up in Washington, D.C. and the influence of some of the elder jazz drummers. Naturally, they had to talk about Billy’s stint with the legendary organist Jimmy Smith. Billy is truly a drummer’s drummer, so the audience for this session was filled with just about every other drummer from the cruise.
Also available right now is an extraordinarily insightful conversation between two of the most talented saxophonists in the world — the legendary David Sanborn and the dynamic Kamasi Washington. Click hereto hear the two sax greats discuss the influences that shaped their music.
The Blue Note — Live in Your Living Room
The Blue Note Jazz Club New York is among the many venues who are streaming live shows from artists who are sheltering in place. The “Blue Note at Home” series will present concerts from many performers familiar to guests of our jazz cruises, including Marcus Miller, Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Harold Lopez-Nussa and many more.
Pianist Ramsey Lewis, who thrilled audiences on The Smooth Jazz Cruise earlier this year, turns 85 soon (May 27, to be exact). To celebrate, Ramsey will be streaming a ticketed solo performance once a month, beginning on May 30 and continuing on the last Saturday of every month.
The 50-minute “Saturday Salon” concerts will be streamed on the Stageit platform at 2 p.m. EDT. A portion of the proceeds from each performance will benefit The Jazz Foundation of America’s COVID 19 Relief Fund. For more information, go to www.ramseylewis.com.