JazzTimes

THE MAN WITH THE HORN

Wallace Roney’s departure on the last day of March was a gut-punch in a year filled with far too many shocks. In the opening phase of the worldwide lockdown, his death was among the first to hit so directly, so close to home: a longtime member of the jazz family taken too early.

Keeping Roney’s memory alive is a film called Universe, a five-year project completed in recent months and shown at the 2020 Sheffield Doc/Fest and DOC NYC film festivals. Universe focuses on the trumpeter honoring one of Miles Davis’ last requests. In 1991, Davis had asked Wayne Shorter to make sure a full suite of music, composed by the saxophonist in 1966 for the Miles Davis Quintet plus a string section, was finally performed and recorded. In 2015, Shorter gave “The Universe Compositions” to Roney, and in 2017, with cameras having documented the process, the suite debuted at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

It was fitting, indeed a given, that Roney would take the lead role in reviving Shorter’s music for the Second Great Quintet. Roney’s relationship with Miles Davis—friendship, mentorship, and much more—was a central part of his life. It boosted his career and guided his path. He was one of the few musicians, and possibly the only trumpeter, to whom Miles freely offered musical insights and professional guidance. Their closeness was one that might make a younger musician question, “Why me?”; as Roney often recalled, it led a number of musicians to ask, “Why you?”

In 2011, I ran into Roney recording at a session in Brooklyn; Lenny White was helping produce keyboardist Beka Gochiashvili’s debut. We sat outside the control room on a couch and, for whatever reason, our chat that night opened up into hours of storytelling and laugh-sharing. We met a few more times in later weeks for more open-ended conversations; some we recorded, a lot of it simply flowed out and into the air. There was no explicit reason for these discussions or for recording them, no assigned article or plan for pitching a biography. A few of his Miles-focused stories follow, in his own words, shared here as another way of remembering a gentle, generous spirit and inspired musician.

in the early ’80s. In 1983, I got the call to play with Art Blakey and be a

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