Wallace Roney: In the Realm of Anti-Gravity
In the rehearsal, Roney's sound, power and musical heart came through, making an indelible impression.
"We had a rehearsal and Tony, Herbie and Ron were like, 'Man. Do we really have to do this? Play behind seven trumpet players?' We played and it was all good. Everybody took a solo. Tony, Herbie and Ron were kind of dialing it in, trying to get through it. But when I took a solo all of a sudden, Tony started tightening up and started playing. Herbie started bending his shoulders and playing some stuff. And Ron. I made them react and it shocked me. These were my idols. I was scared. I could see them smiling. Then we did the fanfare. They said, 'We'll do it one more time.' We did it and the same thing happened. Everybody else played and they kind of did what they did. Then when I played, All of a sudden Herbie started doing it again. And Tony. They started playing.
"Afterward, Ron called me over and said, 'Hey, man, come here. What's your name.' I said 'Wallace Roney.' He said, 'Herbie, come here. This is Wallace Roney. Tony, this is Wallace Roney.' It was beautiful. When we got on the bandstand the next day, Sunday, the same thing happened." Davis' band played to end the night. But Art Farmer approached Roney. The Man, he said, wanted to meet the youngster. A scared Roney followed Farmer to the elevator and up they went to a room where Davis was staying.
"The first thing Miles said, my idol," say Roney, affecting a gravel-voiced imitation of he legend, "'I heard ya. I heard ya up there playin' that stuff.' We talked and he gave me his phone number. He said call me tomorrow. I woke up real early, but I was too scared to call him that early, so I waited and waited. Finally at 12 o'clock on the nose, when that second hand hit 12, I called. He said come on over. When I got to his placehe was staying on 70th Street, not 77th Street. This was a penthouse. They told me Miles wasn't there. I said, 'Oh, no. I just called him.''
With some persistence, he was allowed up. And there was Miles. The first thing Miles Davis said to me when I walked in the door was, 'I never liked Brownie. Clifford Brown. Not that I was jealous of him or anything. He was a nice guy. I just didn't think he was playing as good as everybody thought. He liked playing fast all the time. He couldn't swing. Max [Roach] stopped swinging when he left Bird.' That's the first thing Miles Davis said to me when I walked in his house," says Roney, chuckling. "Beautiful, man. He was telling me where he was coming from. If I want to get with this and learn from him, this is where it's coming from. I understood what he was saying. I wasn't going to debate him. Because if you debate him, you would lose what he had to offer."
The relationship is one of the most important in Roney's life. "I call it mentor-protégé. I just loved him and he kept me around. He told me I reminded him of him, the way he'd look at Dizzy and all that stuff. I loved it. But you have to understand, I was hanging around him every chance I got. But I was also playing at that point with all these great artists too. I wasn't being a hanger-oner. I was playing. And he knew it. I was playing with Tony by '85. I was playing with Philly. And Art. At that point I was playing with everybody, so he was getting to see the lessons I was getting from him were paying off that night. I was utilizing them."
"Then he started teaching me things. Playing stuff on the piano. Playing stuff on the trumpet. Talking about possibilities. Telling stories. Telling me what Monk showed him, that Dizzy showed him. Man, you kiddin? It wasn't osmosis. It was direct. I was having the time of my life."
Davis, many of his sidemen said, didn't say much to musicians; didn't give a lot of direction. Things were often said cryptically. Roney was aware of that, but it was not his experience. "I said, 'Shit, I must have been the only one he ever spoke music to?' Nobody else ever had nothing?... I'm thankful."