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Wallace Roney: Fulfilling the Promise

By Published: November 28, 2005
AAJ: No one I interview ever even listens to their own records. But I still want to ask: do you have any favorite albums you've done?

WR: These two are my favorite.

AAJ: The last two, Prototype and Mystikal?

WR: Yeah. Right now. But what I'm thinking about doing next is going to take things forward further, to expand. If they allow me to do something else—because the reality is if the record doesn't do anything, then the record company will say, "why should we put money behind doing it? We're not just benevolent, not just handing out money. I understand that now. It's a cruel thing, and I wish that jazz musicians could be subsidized so they can let their art be pure—but, you know, it's always art versus commerce. And I'm on art's side.

AAJ: You're doing a lot of shows lately, and when I saw you recently, I was so impressed. You've got such a listening band. Are you enjoying playing out live? Do you ever surprise yourself with what you play?

WR: I always enjoy playing live. The problem is there's a lot of clubs that don't want to take a chance on me, on what I'm doing. That's the problem. So you sit around trying to convince people that this music should be played, should be heard. And then sometimes you can come in and you can pack the joint! But then you come around after doing a European tour and they forget that everyone had a good experience listening to the music and the place was full. They forget, for whatever reason. And that's what makes it hard to keep working. But I've been dedicated to keep working, to try to fulfill what Miles saw in me, what Tony Williams saw in me. After you play with those guys, and they give you what it is they're going to give you—it's your chance to try to do something with it.

A guy was asking me something a couple weeks ago. He said, "Miles gave you this stuff; don't you think it's your duty to find someone else to hand it off to? I said, "no, not yet, because I have to do something with it! You have to take it and start using it! The first thing people want you to do is hand it off, get rid of it. No, man, I got to play, I got to utilize this! Miles didn't just grab anybody off the street. He didn't hear nobody that he liked! Because he was taking it further. But he heard somebody one day, he said, "wait a minute, this cat is trying to go for it. I'm going to help him. He didn't just pick me off the street or just pick somebody. Tony Williams used to tell me Miles didn't give it up easily. There were a lot of guys that wanted to be there. So the mission is trying to take what it is he had faith in me to do and try to do it, like "Papa Jo did for Tony. I remember there was a young bassist who the world thought was great. And he probably was great. And they wanted Ron Carter immediately to mentor him. Ron Carter said, "well, I don't think he's as great as you all think he is. That doesn't mean he wasn't great, but he didn't think so, so he wasn't going to waste his time.

AAJ: I don't care anyway, because while there aren't words for what Ron Carter could teach a bassist, if you're going to be great at something, you'll find some route to accomplish that. No one's life can be dependent on one person that way. If it is true, I feel sorry for everyone, because then life is either one opportunity you get, or one that gets away forever. But that's crazy.

WR: That is true. I definitely agree. If you didn't get this one person as a teacher, that doesn't mean your mission ends. Everybody's part of the whole. I do think, though, people should go out and try to be up under the Oscar Petersons and the Herbie Hancocks or the McCoy Tyners. Even if they can't be around them personally, there is so much to get from a Benny Golson or a Wayne Shorter! Or Johnny Griffin or Mulgrew Miller or Geri Allen. Just try to be around them, and if they don't want you around, just listen to them. Just watch them. That's part of this music too, just being up in the music.

AAJ: Yeah, well, every guy I've ever interviewed says, "I was lucky enough to have this teacher, and so on.

WR: That's the problem with the young scene anyway, today. Some of them trivialize what we do. They say, "well, John Coltrane's dead. Well, what about the people who played with John Coltrane? I see young guys coming to the music thinking all they've got to do is show up. When I played with Art Blakey, or Tony Williams—I never felt like that. I always felt that you had to try to come up to the music. I didn't know whether what I had was enough! And people like Tony Williams will let you know, either by the way he's playing, or by coming to you and saying, "I need you to do this. The cats in my generation were smart enough to think, "oh man, if I want to keep this gig, I need to do this. They could hear when they weren't coming up to that level. You play with Art and you finish the first gig, and if you messed up, you run to your room and grimace about it [laughing].

Some of the young musicians don't do that. First of all, they're all leaders, so they don't know if their talent is really good enough to play with someone else. They never go that far, they're just playing with themselves and thinking that's it. But if they do tokenly play with somebody, and their talent isn't enough, they don't go upstairs and say, "man, I messed up. The first thing they do is go chase girls, or chase guys. Run out, run off the gig. They don't have enough respect for the music or the musicians to say, "man, it wasn't good. I got to work harder. And the most convenient thing for people to say is, "well, such-and-such isn't an Art Blakey. Well, yes we are. Mulgrew is the Art Blakey of the day. Geri might be where Herbie was. And I'm sure when Art was leading the band, some young guy was saying, "he's no 'Papa' Jo. He's no Chick Webb.

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