JAZZ TRUMPETER, WALLACE RONEY, VICTIM OF THE CORONA VIRUS
By Dee Dee McNeil
As the horrific COVID-19 corona virus, a strain of SARS, slashes its way across the world, it continues to leave a toll of death and destruction. Sadly, this terrible disease has claimed the life of one of our jazz icons, master trumpeter, Wallace Roney.
Wallace was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 25, 1960. By the age of four, it was clear that young Roney had perfect pitch. At age seven, he won a scholarship to attend the Settlement School of Music. Everyone expected great things from the young musician. By the time he turned twelve-years-old, he became the youngest member of the Philadelphia brass ensemble that was made up of members of the Philadelphia orchestra. It was about this time that pre-teen, Wallace Roney, met the legendary, Clark Terry. Clark became one of several important mentors in young Wallace’s ascendance to the top of the jazz charts. In 2007, Billy Taylor, recorded a short documentary on the great Wallace Roney that talked about the day Clark Terry asked Wallace to play a scale and instead he played a solo by Lee Morgan that he had memorized. That both shocked and impressed Clark Terry.
When he enrolled in a Washington, D.C. public School called The Duke Ellington School of the Arts, he had already made his first recording at the young age of fifteen, recording with Nation and Haki Mabuti. At that high school, he met his second great mentor, Langston Fitzgerald, a trumpeter with the Baltimore Symphony. Then, at age sixteen, he was encouraged by his high school teacher to play with Cedar Walton’s Quartet that consisted of Billy Higgins, Sam Jones and Philly Joe Jones. Also, around this time, he met Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy was the mentor that taught him to play more intricates styles of improvisation. He also met and became very close to Woody Shaw, who was another trumpet player, close friend and mentor.
Wallace Roney chased his musical dreams to Howard University. But a gig call to become a member of Art Blakey’s Big band pulled him away from college days. Later, he would attend Berklee School of Music. After making his mark as an up and coming trumpeter on the Washington, DC club scene, he met one of his idols. It happened in 1983, while participating in a tribute to Miles Davis. To his amazement, Miles walked up to him after his performance. Roney told Time Magazine:
“He (Miles Davis) asked me what kind of trumpet I had and I told him none. So, he gave me one of his.”
Soon, he and Miles were good friends. Miles Davis scooped the fledgling musician under his expansive wings. Historically, Wallace Roney was the only trumpeter that Miles Davis ever mentored.
As Roney’s star rose, in 1986 he replaced Terrance Blanchard in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers group.
In 1987, Roney released an album on the Muse label titled, “Verses,” followed by “Intuition” in 1988 and in 1989 Muse released “The Standard Bearer.”
Wallace Roney was prolific and energetic. He was turning out albums once a year on the Muse label. In 1990, they released “Obsession” and 1991, “Seth Air.” Also, in 1991, the busy trumpet player became part of a tour to celebrate the legacy of Miles Davis, who died September 28, 1991. He was asked to join Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams and to record with them on their “A Tribute to Miles” album. That album won a Grammy Award.
The Muse label released an album titled, “Munchin’” in 1993, followed by “Crunchin’. Then Wallace Roney changed labels. He was picked up by Warner Brothers.
In 1995, Wallace Roney married piano giant, Geri Allen. Together, the talented couple brought forth great music, along with two daughters and a son. Wallace continued grinding out recordings as a leader and recording as a sideman. As a bandleader, he recorded for Concord Records, Highnote Records and Chesky Records. By the time he turned forty years old, in 2000, Wallace Roney had recorded on over 250 albums. He leaves his brilliant talent behind, captured on video and in the recording studios, to be enjoyed for infinitude.
Wallace Roney died March 31, 2020, at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center, in Patterson, New Jersey at the age of fifty-nine years old. His death was the result of this current pandemic, caused by complications from the COVID-19 virus strain. We send love and condolences