Wallace Roney, US jazz trumpeter, dies aged 59 from COVID-19 (coronavirus)

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Wallace Roney (May 25, 1960 – March 31, 2020) was an American jazz trumpeter, born in Philadelphia. He was found to have perfect pitch at the age of four, and began his musical and trumpet studies at Philadelphia’s Settlement School of Music before going onto the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, in Washington, D.C, where he studied trumpet with Langston Fitzgerald of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. 

When he entered the Duke Ellington School, Wallace Roney had already made his recording debut at the age of just 15 with Nation and Haki Mahbuti, and at that time met, among others, Bill Hardman, Valery Ponomarev, Woody Shaw, Johnny Coles and Freddie Hubbard. With the encouragement of his high school teacher, he then played with the Cedar Walton Quartet featuring Billy Higgins, Sam Jones, and Philly Joe Jones at only 16 years of age   

After graduating from the Duke Ellington School of the Art, Wallace Roney attended Howard University and Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

Wallace Roney attained distinction as a gifted local performer in the Washington, D.C area. In 1979 and 1980, he won the DownBeat Award for Best Young Jazz Musician of the Year, and in 1989 and 1990 the DownBeat Magazine’s Critic’s Poll for Best Trumpeter to Watch.

In 1983, while taking part in a tribute to Miles Davis at “The Bottom Line” in Manhattan, he met his idol, the legend Miles Davis. Roney told Time magazine “He [Davis] asked me what kind of trumpet I had, and I told him none. So he gave me one of his.” 

In 1984 and 1985, he was forced to play in Latin dance and reception bands, as the New York clubs, that had once been a prominent part of the jazz scene, had mostly disappeared. But in 1986, he was asked to tour with drummers Tony Williams and Art Blakey, after which Wallace Roney became one of the most in-demand trumpet players on the professional circuit, and he succeeded Terence Blanchard in Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was an integral part of Tony Williams’s quintet, and 1991, Wallace Roney played with Miles Davis at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

After Davis’s death that year, Roney toured in memoriam with Davis alumni Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams and recorded an album, A Tribute to Miles, for which they won a Grammy Award.

Wallace Roney recorded his debut album as a band leader, Verses, on Muse Records in 1987. A number of albums on Muse, Warner Bros. Records and Concord Records/Stretch Records followed, and by the time he turned 40 in 2000 he had been recorded on over 250 audio recordings. His album titles from the 2000s include Mystikal (2005) and Jazz (2007) on HighNote Records. His two most recent albums are A Place in Time (HighNote 2016) and Blue Dawn – Blue Nights (HighNote 2019). which features his nephew, drummer Kojo Roney.

Over the years, he played alongside jazz legends including Ornette Coleman, Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders and many others. 

Roney took lessons from Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie and studied with Miles Davis from 1985 until the Miles’s death in 1991. Roney Wallace credited Miles Davis as having helped to challenge and shape his creative approach to life as well as being his music instructor, mentor, and friend, and he was the only trumpet player Miles Davis personally mentored. However, some critics said Roney sounded too similar to his idol. 

Wallace Roney died at the age of 59, on March 31, 2020, at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, from complications arising from COVID-19 (coronavirus).

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  1. Pingback: Musicians taken by Coronavirus (COVID-19) | Dead Musicians

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