TRIBUTE: Wallace Roney (1960-2020) by Andre Canniere

Trumpeter Andre Canniere pays tribute to Wallace Roney   Like many others around the world, I was shocked and saddened to find out that Wallace Roney had passed away on Tuesday at the age of just 59 as a result of complications arising from COVID-19. The first recording I heard with him was on Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux. I was a huge fan of all things Miles Davis and picked up whatever I could find. This album revisiting music from Davis’ collaborations with Gil Evans, was recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991 while Miles was seriously ill (he passed away three months later). I remember thinking how inconsistently good Miles sounded on some of the solos, especially ‘Springsville’ and ‘The Duke’, knowing he wasn’t at his best. As it turned out, those solos were played by Wallace Roney.

Wallace Roney in Brecon, 2009. Photo credit Tim Dickeson

Roney studied with Miles Davis and in fact was the only trumpet player personally mentored by Miles, to the extent that, as he explained in a recent interview, there was a time when Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard would ask him jealously what Miles had taught him. Having first met in 1983 when Miles gave him one of his own trumpets, Roney has openly credited Davis with helping shape his life and career as a musician. Perhaps unfairly, this occasionally led to critics chiding Roney for sounding too much like his idol. Whenever I heard this complaint it always made me wonder why there weren’t as many critical comments made about trumpet players who sounded as much like Freddie Hubbard or Dizzy Gillespie as Wallace Roney did to Miles Davis. Subjectivity aside, it is clear that Roney was a hugely hard-working and dedicated musician who developed a truly distinctive, highly personal sound and musical path that was his alone. The Wallace Roney Quintet (1996) was the first of his albums as a leader that I owned . It is an intense and beautiful record, which thanks to the limited supply of music in my household at that time, I was able to immerse myself fully. This album is not on any streaming services currently, but it is very a good starting point to get to know Roney’s work.  No Job Too Big or Small (1999), a compilation from a selection of his albums from the late 80s and early 90s can also be strongly recommended. There are many moments of beauty and genius by pianist Geri Allen (Roney’s wife from 1995 until just before her death in 2017) as well as saxophonist Gary Thomas and drummer Cindy Blackman. In addition to his huge output as a leader, Roney was highly sought after as a sideman. In 1986 he replaced Terence Blanchard in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and around the same period joined the quintet led by drummer Tony Williams. The Story of Neptune (Tony Williams, 1992) has thrilling moments of interplay between Williams and Roney. Throughout his career he also played alongside many other legends in the jazz world including Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders and Lenny White. Fellow Philadelphian Christian McBride has written of having lost a “beloved big brother”. Chick Corea describes him as “an immense artistic treasure of our music community.” His warmth, kindness and beauty as both a musician and human being are sadly missed as this very sad news starts to sink in. LINKS: Audio interview from 2019 with Pablo Held Tribute by Richard Williams  

Categories: Features/Interviews

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