Wallace Roney, the legendary jazz trumpeter and protege of Miles Davis, has died at the age of 59. Roney’s cause of death was as a result of coronavirus complications. Roney is survived by his wife, Dawn, as well as three children from a previous marriage.
Rumors of Roney’s death first appeared through multiple posts on the Philadelphia-born legend’s Facebook page. At the time of his death, Roney was living in New Jersey.
Prior to studying with Miles Davis, Roney received his jazz education from Clark Terry and Duke Ellington. Roney studied with Davis from 1985 until the latter’s death in 1991. Roney began his career in the early 1980s and was a member of both Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the Tony Williams Quintet.
According to publicist Lydia Liebman, Roney died just before noon on March 31. At the time of Roney’s death, the Tri-State Area had become the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Roney’s Friendship With Davis Culminated in a Performance Together in Montreaux in 1991, the Same Year as Davis’ Death
According to Roney’s official website biography, he first became acquainted with Davis in 1983 after Roney performed at Carnegie Hall. That bio goes on to say that in the same year as Davis’ death, the pair performed together at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. In an interview with NAMM in 2018, Roney said that he first met Davis in 1983 following a performance at the Bottom Line Club, a famed jazz club in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Roney once said of the first meeting with Davis, “That was the beginning of a great chapter in my life.”
On his website profile, Roney says of his career, “My goal is to make the best music I can. I enjoy, listen and can play all types of music I filter my expression through the jazz experience.”
In an October 2017 interview with Jazz Online, Roney said that the musician’s style he most closely identified with was “clearly Miles Davis.” During the same interview, Roney said that Davis had given him his greatest piece of advice. The advice was, “Keep playing your horn and don’t let nobody tell you what to do, how to play and how to think or they will end up playing you…. instead of You playing your horn!”
When asked what the next months had in store for him, Roney said that he was still trying to “master” his instrument.
2. Roney Had 3 Children With His Late Wife & Fellow Legendary Jazz Performer, Geri Allen
Roney was preceded in death by his wife, Geri Allen. They married in 1995. The couple had two daughters, Laila and Barbara, and a son, Wallace, together.
Allen passed away in 2017. Allen, a famed jazz pianist in her own right, died in June 2017 following a battle with cancer. The couple’s marriage had ended in divorce in 2008, according to Roney’s NPR tribute.
Roney performed on four of Allen’s albums, beginning with “Maroons” in 1992. The final collaboration came in 2006 with, “Timeless Portraits and Dreams.”
3. Online Tributes to Roney Have Been Flooding in on Social Media
Jazz bassist Christian McBride paid tribute to Roney on Twitter writing, “Our collective spirits are taking some serious blows these days. Saying goodbye to one my beloved big brothers is especially hard. May the great Wallace Roney RIP.”
Writer Steve Silberman said of Roney, “Oh lord. Brilliant #jazz trumpeter Wallace Roney has died of #coronavirus, per @901JAZZ. Just two months ago, his band was playing scorching sets at DC’s Blues Alley.”
Here are of the other most poignant tributes to Roney:
4. Roney Released What Proved to Be His Final Album in the Summer of 2019
In the summer of 2019, Roney released what proved to be his final album, “Blue Dawn – Blue Nights.” Glide Magazine reported that the album was Roney’s 22nd album as a leader. The album did not feature new compositions from Roney.
Among those collaborating on the record was Roney’s 15-year-old nephew, Kojo Odu Roney, who played drums on one track.
Another young musician who contributed to the album, saxophonist Emilio Modeste, told Downbeat about his experiences working with Roney saying, “Wallace taught us how to trust the music. By submitting to the music and trusting it, it allowed everyone in the band to express themselves and contribute in more meaningful ways.”
Roney told Glide Magazine at the time:
My music is uncompromising, so I look for musicians who have an expansive understanding of what’s possible and who have the ability to play above that, but who are always cognizant of what’s going on around them.
I tell them ‘be true to who you are. Go all the way in, learn every part of what the masters have done, but let it come out of you’.
During his interview with Jazz Online, Roney was asked about his philosophy of “playing on the edge.” Roney said his philosophy meant, “To play beyond the moment- Taking chances, stretching the melody and choosing notes in the chord that most people wouldn’t hear. While at the same time stretching your technical ability beyond the limits.”
5. Roney Believed You Had to Be an ‘Accomplished Musician’ to Perform Jazz Music
Roney said in an October 2019 interview with All About Jazz that due to the “beauty” of jazz music, you have to be an “accomplished musician” to perform it.
Roney continued saying, “However, there are other musics where you’re not accomplished, but music springs up out of you anyway. It’s not what I do, and it’s not what I prefer to listen to, but I’m not critical of it.”