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Wallace Roney: Fulfilling the Promise

By Published: November 28, 2005
AAJ: Well, otherwise, as a musician you're sort of a mere timekeeper. Either way, you're playing for two hours that night on a bandstand.

WR: Well, we should keep encouraging that kind of thing. And we should discourage the ones that are just jiving around—if they're jiving around. I always think, what if one day we all set aside two minutes and asked the whole world to sing one pitch at the same time for thirty seconds? Everybody included. All over the world, everybody get up and go, "hmmmmmm —whatever the pitch is. Maybe it'd have to be at a certain amount of decibels, so everyone would have to sing this loud. Everyone, the person next to you, people driving—you know what I mean? Put it on the air; what would that sound like?

AAJ: Everyone would simply ascend.

WR: You dig? And that's what you're trying to make your music do!

AAJ: Unfortunately, the cynic in me says that people would spend the next ten years fighting each other on what that pitch should be. But if it could happen, the human race would grow angel wings and we would float away.

WR: Yeah. That's what the music's about and that's what you're trying to do with your music. That's it.

AAJ: Again, it all seems so trivial now to get back to smaller matters. Here's one you might disagree with. I would never accuse you of making easy listening music. There's nothing smooth about your jazz. But I think there's a sense of serenity, a sense of hope and optimism on this new record. I don't think you've ever made negative music, but No Room for Argument sounds urgent to me almost to the point of being pissed off. Is there a difference? Are you feeling more hopeful?

WR: I think there's everything in music, again. With No Room for Argument, I'm very proud of what we were trying to do. And that's on Mystikal, actually, too. Let's say you're pissed off because the people do not accept the fact that this world is not fair. That's an opening statement. Well, the following statement might be, what should we do about it? Maybe that's the next record. And then the third statement might be, what would the results be if we saw it in a fairer way? And you say, well, we'll feel a lot better. So maybe that's what this is saying. One record says, this isn't right; the next record says we're trying to evolve to be a higher people, and the one after that says, if you let us evolve, we can operate like this, and it'll be beautiful. You still retain all the strength of a revolution. Every record can't be the same yelling—but it can have the same message. Coltrane's A Love Supreme sounds different from Crescent to me. But it's the same intention.

AAJ: And that's what you want in record albums, anyway. A body of work that holds together but isn't remaking the same thing over and over. Which I think sometimes is what people want musicians to do.

WR: But then they wouldn't be happy with that. It wouldn't say anything.

AAJ: Your albums often feature a great blend of other people's compositions with your own. Besides the Roney tunes, there are jazz compositions like Kenny Dorham's "Poetic, Wayne Shorter's "Atlantis, Slick Rick's "Hey Young World, the Temptations' "Just My Imagination, Al Green's "Let's Stay Together, and maybe best of all, André "3000 Benjamin of Outkast's "Prototype. You've got good taste in songs. Tell me what motivates you to do a song for an album. What attracts you to it?

WR: Well, here I go with my thing again: because we don't live on this world alone. So you hear someone else's stuff, and it's a reflection and it inspires you. If I started to play only my own songs, unless I really had a mission, for me it would all start to sound the same. It's more reflective of the world to step outside my writing. So I'll ask Antoine to bring something in and I'll shape it. I'll do a ballad, but sometimes you don't want to do the pop ballads of the Tin Pan Alley era. You might want to do the pop ballads of this era, and do the same thing that Bird did with 'em. And that's what I tried to with "Just My Imagination and Al Green tunes. Not all those tunes are going to be great for the way I hear music, but I try to pick tunes that have a certain kind of feeling or mood—then I can shape and put my feelings to it harmonically and rhythmically. It's no different from what Bird did with "Embraceable You. That's a pop tune—Gershwin.

AAJ: Those tunes that jazz musicians are supposed to do—now players do them because other jazz musicians have done them. It's sort of a jazz rule. But initially, it was just doing a song you liked.

WR: And those songs I do speak to me in a certain way, probably the way "My Funny Valentine spoke to Chet Baker or "It Never Entered My Mind spoke to Miles. They're relevant in that way. Not that you'd never do those other tunes as well, but now, as you would say, the vocabulary has broadened. You can't say, "well, they'll never write another tune like that, not since 1939 —that's not true. They kept writing; people wrote tunes outside of what we do as jazz artists. It's just whether you find it worthy enough to do something with it; some people might not, some might.

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