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Wallace Roney: In the Realm of Anti-Gravity

Wallace Roney: In the Realm of Anti-Gravity
R.J. DeLuke By

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Much is made of trumpeter Wallace Roney coming from the Miles Davis school, a mentor-protégé situation that blossomed in the 1980s that Roney is very proud of. But that wouldn't be telling the whole story of the Philadelphia native who, in his prime years, has become one of the world's finest trumpet players, and a musician whose quest for innovation is everlasting.

Hearing jazz music around the house as a small child, it crept into his head and stayed there.

"People couldn't understand a young kid really loving the music that way because everybody else was liking R&B and figuring that's what you're supposed to like," Roney says. "That's the stuff that the common black experience was. Which is great. It was more that jazz took a special ear. It took a special kind of temperament and understanding and knowledge. If you understood jazz, it put you higher. On a different plateau than your next-door neighbor, and girls wearing hot pants and you just wanted to dance."

It was always music for Roney, taking lessons at a very young age, then being more informed on his instrument by childhood associations with legends Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie. He listened to all the great trumpet players. Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Blue Mitchell, and so many more. Roney was accepted into the fold by Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter. He's played with Joe Henderson, Art Blakey and Cedar Walton. The trumpeter was part of a fantastic band headed by drumming icon Tony Williams, which included his great friend, the tremendous pianist Mulgrew Miller, sadly recently departed.

"Man, he was fiery. He was creative. He was impressionistic. He was everything, man. He was something else," Roney says of Williams. "And he was a virtuoso. The definition of virtuoso probably goes Charlie Parker, Tony Williams, John Coltrane. This guy could do anything on the drums he wanted to do. Anything. He said he'd just look at the drums and come up with stuff to do. And it wouldn't be showy. It'd just be amazing. It took the music to another place. He would play something in a creative space, or leave a space. And you would say: Wow. It would push me to want to do that on the trumpet. To be that innovative."

And I lived there," he says, reflecting back on those moments like they'd just occurred. "My whole life became—and is to this moment—living in that realm of anti-gravity. Like stepping on a meteor. Will it go down or will it go up. If you figure that out, you can go step on the next one."

And of course there was Miles, an idol. Miles the mentor. And also Miles, the man who summoned Roney for a meeting, albeit brief, after first hearing him play. Not the other way around.

Understanding A band leader on his own terms for many years now, Roney's always concerned with the next musical adventure. The next exciting moment that will take the music somewhere different. It might not happen every night. But it's out there if you're going for it. Roney consistently goes for it, and his new band of young firebrands is no different, as his album Understanding (HighNote, 2013) attests. It's a hard-driving, exploring and open jazz record. Many tunes are covers, but not standards. They have a shape different than the source, an approach sculpted by the trumpeter. The youngsters behind him—Arnold Lee and Ben Solomon on saxophones, Victor Gould or Eden Ladin on piano, Daryl Johnson on bass and Kush Abadey on drums—tear it up. Cats in their 20s, though Solomon is only 19.

"As far as it being a young band, my band has pretty much always been a young band, after I broke up a band with Lenny White and Buster Williams and Gary Bartz. That was a great band. But after a while these younger cats started wanting to come and play too. These guys, they don't have any hangups," says Roney. "Buster didn't either, by the way. Buster was always ready to go to the unknown. But now you got young guys that are ready to go to the unknown. I like that."

Roney is as frank and honest as the music he plays, and like his solos rolling into the air, twisting and turning, his stories about situations and fellow musicians do the same; entertaining and focused. While he is more introverted than a lot of musicians, his statements aren't guarded. He's forthright and natural.

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