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Wallace Roney: In the Realm of Anti-Gravity

By Published: June 11, 2013
Leading up to the famous concert at the Montreaux Jazz Festival, where Davis figuratively went back in time and performed the music from his time with Gil Evans
Gil Evans
Gil Evans
1912 - 1988
, with a big band led by Quincy Jones, Roney was getting hints from his mentor that it was going to be a reality.

"He'd say he thinks he's gonna do it. And if he does, he wanted me to play with him because I play his stuff perfect. He kept saying that. I didn't know what would come of it. I thought he was just saying that. He was also talking about getting his band with Herbie and Tony and Wayne... Then one day, all of a sudden it was going to happen. I said: Wow. He asked me to come up there. I was in the rehearsal. He told me to stay up there with him. And I did. He kept giving me more things to play. And it was beautiful. Beautiful. I didn't know he was sick. I didn't know he was going to die. I had just seen him a couple week before this thing had happened."

It wouldn't be long before Miles would pass on. But in Montreaux, the lessons didn't stop.

"It's really weird," says Roney, "because the night before [the concert], he really was talking. Miles could tell you a lot of stuff, but not talk run-on. He would say things. And he would say something else. Or tell you a story. Or laugh. This night, he was talking long. Run-on, run-on, run-on sentences. That was odd."

Davis, during his life, claimed at times to have premonitions of things. There are those close to him that think he may have known the end was near, which is why he want back and played his old music, both in Montreaux and in Paris where he played a lot of his classic music with the likes of Hancock, Shorter, Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
Joe Zawinul
1932 - 2007
, Dave Holland
Dave Holland
Dave Holland
, Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
and others.

"He must have," known his life light was dimming, says Roney. "Because he was trying to tell me everything in that whole two or three days. From '83 to '91, I got a lot, trust me. But those last three days is when I started hearing stuff about his youth. Private stuff. All of it was good. No weird stuff. But I started hearing stuff about his father more. More than just 'My father said this.' I started hearing all these stories. His brother [Vernon]. Dorothy [sister]. Everything. And all of the pain that went with being on the scene. I started hearing all of that. For the first time. I had never heard, '83 to '91, the pain. I heard the good times and the stuff he learned and the stuff he was going to show me. In those couple days, I heard the pain too. Along with the rest. I never articulated it like that, but that might have been the difference."

After his death, Davis' Second Great Quintet—Hancock, Shorter, Williams and Carter—staged a tribute band and tour. They turned to Roney to fill the master's trumpet spot. "I fit right in there and we became a great band. That's the greatest band I ever played in in my entire life. Period. Without a doubt... I knew those guys so well I felt like, if nothing else, I could understand the process and I hope I contributed something. They made me feel like I did."

But to Roney's dismay, the tour wasn't widely accepted, in spite of the man who was being honored and the exulted status of the players

There were gigs in Europe, but "The Unites States wouldn't book it. Isn't that awful? We couldn't get a gig. We played Washington, D.C., Colorado, and L.A. and San Francisco. That's all. The rest canceled on us. They lowered the money. We wanted to play, but... Tony, Herbie, Wayne? Wow. The United States did not want it. Now Tony is dead."

Since then, Wallace has gone on his own. He might do an occasional guest gig, but he has has emerged as a leader and follows his own vision, one forged through his experiences and the great men with whom he spent time.

"After that, there was no where else to go. You just played with the greatest artists in the world," he said of the tribute tour. "You gonna apprentice under someone else? There's nowhere else. So I started my own group for real and never looked back. I do all-star groups with Herbie and stuff like that. Chick Corea. Chick is beautiful. But where else are you going to go? After playing with Herbie and Tony and Wayne and Ron Carter. And Miles Davis being your mentor. You're going to learn from where? I mean, you always learn. But who are you going to apprentice under? There's no where to go. It was my time."

He relishes leading younger musicians and exploring musical paths.

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