Photo by Dino Perrucci
Wallace Roney, the virtuosic jazz trumpet player who studied under Miles Davis, has passed away due to coronavirus complications. He was 59 years old.
Roney was well-known for being the only trumpet player to be personally mentored by Miles Davis. He also studied with Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry. Roney would later play with drummers Tony Williams and Art Blakey, as well as Chick Corea.
Born in Philadelphia, Roney discovered he had perfect pitch at a young age. He went on to attend Howard University and Berklee College of Music. At a young age, he became a mainstay in the Washington, D.C. jazz scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1979 and 1980, he won DownBeat magazine’s award for Best Young Jazz Musician of the Year. He would later win DownBeat‘s Critic’s Poll for Best Trumpeter to watch in 1989 and 1990.
Roney met Miles Davis in New York City in 1983. He began studying with Davis in 1985 and continued to do so until Davis’ death in 1991. During that time, Roney succeeded Terence Blanchard in Art Blakey’s Jazz messengers, and he became a key member of Tony Williams’ quintet.
In the summer of 1991, Roney joined his mentor Davis onstage at the Montreux Jazz Festival. After Davis passed away in September of that year, Roney toured in memoriam with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. The quintet recorded an album together, titled A Tribute to Miles, in 1994, which won a Grammy Award.
By his 40th birthday (in 2000), Roney had appeared on over 250 recordings. In his later career, he released albums on HighNote Records including Mystikal (2005), Jazz (2007), A Place in Time (2016) and, most recently, Blue Dawn – Blue Nights (2019).
In a 1987 article for the Washington Post, writer James McBride wrote of Roney: “He sits alone, silent and slim in a dark gray jacket, his right hand on his horn. His head is bowed slightly, giving him an edgy, pensive, shy look. Yet as he rises to walk toward the stage, moving like a shadow, the other horn players — trumpeters and saxmen lined against the wall waiting to blow — part respectfully to let him pass. They know who he is. They know what he can do.”
“His name is Wallace Roney III,” McBride continued. “He is 27 years old. He is from Washington, and he is one of the best jazz trumpet players in the world.”