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Wallace Roney: Fulfilling the Promise

By Published: November 28, 2005
AAJ: Well, their ideas are so revolutionary at the time, but in their wake the vocabularies they create are like air: if you try to avoid it, you suffocate yourself. It should become a part of everyone's vocabulary.

WR: It should be. And we should be trying to add more words to the vocabulary, we should be extending it. But we should definitely use it. I think some people get hung up on that; they pay homage by just playing someone's solo. I'm not talking about that—I think you should do that at home. I think you should take what they do, then take it further; let's keep this building growing. I'm determined that I'm going to do that. And other people will do some other things, and maybe you can utilize that too. But maybe by my doing this, I'm doing some other things—and finding new things in a way that is more natural and deeper than just by cutting off what went before.

AAJ: I think it would be hard for a creative musician to try too hard to not play something; it's not very natural to think about avoiding things while playing.

WR: Well, it's easy for some of them not to play certain things because they didn't have to work at it to figure out what it is. That's the other thing. Work is always something that people run from and that some people are encouraged to run from. Seems like the journals encourage you to be lazy. And sometimes the lazy way is to try to be completely different. I know that's a word that people like to use, but I think instead of being different, they should try to be better. I think better is better than different! Trying to be better, trying to take something further. Even if you can't go any further with something, what comes out of trying is the next thing. Or the next logical extension of what's happening.

AAJ: Well, we all like a new sound, but a self-conscious novelty doesn't tend to last long.

WR: No, I don't think so. It doesn't have any place. But I do think there are always new sounds that come out of developing. That's what life's about. It's not about destroying something—if you keep destroying what was before, you don't have anything. You're starting over all the time. At least that's the way I see it. I was reading something Herbie was saying. He was saying that it's taken him a long time to remember that he's a human being first, not a musician. That's great, because he's talking about the evolution of people—but on the other hand, he wouldn't be the Herbie that he is now if he hadn't been what he's criticizing people for being now. He said, "I used to be the person that was music all day, every day, and had these musical goals. But if he didn't feel that way before, then he wouldn't have sounded like he did, say, with Miles Davis.

AAJ: That's a common way for a person to feel, though, at two different ages of his life.

WR: Yeah, but I think he's influencing people to not work very hard, and if he didn't work so hard, he wouldn't have been in those situations. And that part has to be honored. Miles Davis, it seems to me, was a person who lived life with a purpose. John Coltrane was a person that lived life with a purpose.

AAJ: Yeah, well, sure! Coltrane might have had the greatest, most focused purpose of anyone I can think of offhand.

WR: Maybe. Maybe Miles was just as focused. Maybe people just didn't see it that way.

AAJ: I can't even compare them in way where I think less of one of them. Coltrane got sick and died, so his whole work seems like one marathon burn towards a certain point, and then it was cut short.

WR: Ain't that what life is, though?

AAJ: Yeah. But some lives are longer than others.

WR: But I'm talking about life itself, and evolution of the world, and universe; it's one long evolution towards something. That's what I'm starting to figure out.

AAJ: Actually, after getting this philosophical, I always feel stupid getting back to mundane questions. It's that larger stuff that blows my mind.

WR: But that's what it is to me in music. I think you're trying to honor a purpose. If you're just going to play, wake up and do a job and be proficient, that's cool. That's your mission, I guess. But I think that if you want to make your music, make what you do mean something, or achieve something that's more than something marginal—even if most of the world won't hear it, you would like that it has some sort of effect on the universe.

AAJ: Yeah, especially when life seems so short and music seems so precious.

WR: There you go. So that's what you're waking up in the morning to do. To keep trying to upgrade what you have in your life. And in your life, music—if you're an artist, that's one of the best parts of what you have to offer! It's not that you get up, and walk, and go to the bathroom—your contribution to this life might be a universal, sonic thing! And you're going to try to make it the greatest in the world. You're trying to make it honor something.

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