Wallace Roney: In the Realm of Anti-Gravity
"I got the gig, but I didn't go to Europe. Again, my father told me I wasn't allowed to do it. That was the last time that I listened to my father in that circumstance. He wasn't trying to hurt me, he didn't want to see me leave home. I had to make a decision. Art told me when he came back I was in the [big] band. Sure enough, he came back and I joined them in Washington, D.C. We had two more gigs. Then we went up to Boston and that was it." But he joined Blakey again the following year. Blakey became a major influence.
"I loved it. Everything he said was valuable. And you have to remember this man was one of the greatest drummers to ever live. A lot of people want to say he was one of the greatest band leaders. He was. You can be a great band leader and just be mediocre on your instrument. This man was one of the greatest on his instrument ever. So you're watching this man who created this modern style that Elvin Jones and Tony Williams and Roy Haynes were playing. He's one of the co-creators of it and still was as powerful as them and giving them something else to recon with. And he's leading this band on a level of Duke Elllington leading his band. He's telling these stories and encouraging you. What else can you want?"
After leaving Blakey, Roney played with many stellar players, but they weren't working all the time. So I found myself trying to sit in and let people hear you, and work with all your friends so you can get a gig. That lasted until 1985. Things started to change when Kenny Barron called me and asked me to play on a record called What If? (Enja, 1986). After I played on that, everything changed." One of them was that Tony Williams was putting together a band. He found Roney.
Roney recalls with laughter, "When Tony saw me it was so funny. I think he felt like he knew me. He kept looking at me. He'd say, 'Man, what's your name?' I had played with him two years beforehand and it was a great experience. I told him my name. He kept looking at me. I think he thought I was Miles' son or something. Really, man, he kept looking a me. He said, 'Who do you play with?' And I didn't want to tell him I just got done playing with Philly Joe because I knew he loved Philly. And if he knew that, it would taint what he'd think about me. I wanted him to like me on my own terms. So I said, 'I played with a lot of different people.'
"After we played he would hug me and say beautiful things. And he said he wanted to put together a band around me. I said wow. Michael Cuscuna called me six months later. Blue Note was threatening to give me a record contract, which they never did. He said to me, 'Wallace, we got good and bad news. The bad news is, we can't sign you to Blue Note yet. But the good news is, Tony Williams wants to put the band together around you and Mulgrew [Miller]. Tony wants you to call him right now.' He gave me Tony's number. I gave Tony a call and it was beautiful. Tony was one of my heroes playing with Miles. That's what I was listening to. Nefertiti, all my life. My whole concept of expansion and innovative approach comes from Nefertiti and A Love Supreme."
It became a thrilling musical adventure, and Roney helped assemble the band. "We had a good time. We went on the road for years. We drove in cars and vans. We had a van for the drums and equipment and a car for us. Tony would drive. He liked to drive. We were serious about playing this music. We even drove in Europe once we got over there. We'd drive every place. That's the dedication of wanting to play this music. We didn't have limos or first-class treatment. The music got the first-class treatment. We were playing with Tony and for Tony and we were making music. It was beautiful."
Williams didn't remember, but he and Roney had actually met in 1983. It was at a tribute for Miles Davis in New York City. That even started the relationship between the two trumpeters that would last until Davis' death in 1991.