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Wallace Roney 1960-2020

Wallace Roney copy

In terms of the richness of his tone and the fluidity and inventiveness of his phrasing, Wallace Roney — who has died at the age of 59, a victim of the Covid-19 virus — stood somewhere between Booker Little and Ambrose Akinmusire in the lineage of jazz trumpet. And it was a tribute to his prowess that in June 1991, when Miles Davis surprisingly accepted the Montreux Jazz Festival’s invitation to perform the music Gil Evans had written for him in the ’40s and ’50s with a 46-piece orchestra, it was Roney who was chosen to stand alongside the frail featured soloist, taking over his parts when necessary.

The photographs above are some of those I took during the brief rehearsals. Roney’s commitment to the task was as obvious as his feelings for Davis. The success of the concert was more emotional than substantial. The orchestra, conducted by Quincy Jones, was packed with great musicians and did a fine job, but Davis’s diminished powers were evident. Roney’s help was vital to ensure that the great man was not embarrassed, and in his own solos, such as that on “The Duke”, he managed to pay appropriate homage to the genius alongside him while retaining his own character. Eventually, too, Davis was able to gather the strength and confidence to do himself something close to justice, and you’d have to think Roney’s close support had something to do with that. Those of us in the audience were simply astonished and profoundly grateful to have been given the chance to hear much-loved music that we never imagined we’d hear Miles play live.

A few years earlier at the Royal Albert Hall I’d seen Roney taking the place of Freddie Hubbard in VSOP, as the near-reunion of Davis’s second great quintet was called, alongside Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. He shone there, too. But it was with Tony Williams’s own quintet in the late ’80s that he found what I think of as his perfect setting. With Bill Pierce on soprano and tenor saxophones, Mulgrew Miller on piano and Ira Coleman on double bass, playing Williams’s fine compositions (like “Geo Rose”) in a series of fine albums for Blue Note, this group offered a perfect restatement of what might be called post-hard bop, pre-fusion values. When I saw them at the Jazz Café in London, I was thrilled not only to see and hear the great Williams not only playing acoustic music again but surrounding himself with proper heavyweights, of whom Wallace Roney was unquestionably one.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michael Villeneau #

    Very sad to hear. Many Dibango also was a victim of Covid 19 unfortunately.

    March 31, 2020
  2. Michael Rüsenberg #

    Dear Richard,

    may I take your photograph, of course with credit?

    It´s hard to find Roney pictures, free of roayalties.

    I´ve been in trouble recently with Hamburg advocates over McCoy Tyner and Wayne Shorter.

    Thank you so much


    March 31, 2020
  3. John Evans #

    Very sad news. RIP.

    The latest issue of this monthly publication (whose obituaries always appear some weeks after musicians have died) records the shutting down of live jazz in New York City.

    Click to access tnycjr202004.pdf

    April 1, 2020
  4. Bill White #

    I’ve been researching the life of drummer/composer, Tony Williams for some time and several years ago managed to secure a series of telephone interviews with Wallace Roney. He was so generous and accommodating. I think we spoke for over four hours in total. His early death is tragic. I won’t forget him

    April 1, 2020
    • Are you writing a biography of Tony, Bill?

      April 1, 2020
      • Bill White #

        Well, yes I am. I’ve done lots of research and been lucky enough to speak directly to a number of key individuals over, what now is a ten year period. However there have been problems largely linked to a key individual who has been obstructive.
        In many ways I’ve probably got enough and all the interviews have been transcribed but………..

        April 1, 2020
    • GuitarSlinger #

      ” are you writing a Bio of Tony Bill ”

      Lets us all know when its published Bill … that’s a jazz bio that’s well overdue

      And hmmm … I wonder who that individual you’re referring to might be . Hmmm …

      April 1, 2020
  5. George Foster #

    When Ian Carr was in a care home in 2008 the American trumpeter Wallace Roney, who was playing at Ronnie Scott’s, went out of his way to make contact and to invite Ian to the club. Roney was the only young trumpeter to be mentored by Miles Davis; just before his death Miles had given his famous red trumpet to him. We expected Roney to want to talk about Ian’s monumental biography of Miles but he wanted to talk about Ian’s work with Nucleus, which turned out to have been a huge formative influence and inspiration in his teenage years.

    April 1, 2020
  6. Lovely photos, Richard (and the right choice marked in chinagraph!)

    April 1, 2020
  7. What a shame. I was listening to the Jazz Soul Seven’s ‘Impressions Of Curtis Mayfield’ just last weekend and frequently raising an eyebrow at Wallace’s solos. Talk about sounds of surprise. Tony W said (to Bill Milkowski) that he loved Wallace’s playing because he was ‘always on the edge of making a mistake’.

    April 1, 2020
  8. GuitarSlinger #

    I have to say … When I think about how many people I’d come into contact everyday before retiring ….. I’ve got the very dark feeling we’re going to lose a whole host of incredible talent to COVID-19 .. of all ages between say …. 40 on up .. before this is all over

    Fact is I just lost a musician friend two weeks ago ( a local ski resort celebrity ) to COVID-19 … at age 64 !

    Thank goodness I was willing and able to walk away when I did . Most .. are not so lucky

    April 1, 2020
  9. Jim Brown #

    This virus is taking so many of our masters. I was looking forward to hearing Wallace at Kuumba in Santa Cruz, where he was booked next month.

    April 12, 2020

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