'Mystikal': Wallace Roney Pushes Jazz Envelope Ed Gordon talks with trumpeter Wallace Roney about his efforts to keep jazz alive through innovation. Roney's new CD is called Mystikal. The Philadelphia native is often compared to his idol and inspiration, the late jazz legend Miles Davis, who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Monday.

'Mystikal': Wallace Roney Pushes Jazz Envelope

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ED GORDON, host:

Earlier in the program we told you that trumpeter Wallace Roney was a protégé of Miles Davis. He says one of the things Miles taught him was to never stand still. Always look for the new sound. Roney says it's an idea he's applied to all of his music, including his latest CD, Mystical.

Mr. WALLACE RONEY (Musician): Just try to keep being honest and go forward. I try to include everything that was innovative in black music and jazz in particular, and try to keep an ear to what's happening now.

GORDON: It's interesting, you said black music. I had a friend who saw jazz as what he believed to be only truly played by blacks, and that whites to some degree, were interlopers. Do you see the differentiation racially between music, black music, white music, etc.?

Mr. RONEY: No, it's not like that. But this music was created by black music. And people don't have a problem calling R&B black music or calling different variations black music. But when it comes to jazz, because jazz is such an interesting and innovative music, we seem to want to express it as everybody's music--which it is, it is, and everybody has made a contribution. But it's created by black Americans.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: You know early on that you loved music. I read somewhere that at five you could literally tell your parents what trumpeters and jazz men were playing particular songs just by listening to it. Talk to us about how much music has played a role in your life beyond just the love of it. Has it really shaped who you are?

Mr. RONEY: Yes. That's interesting. That goes back to calling this music black music. I grew up in North Philadelphia. The music was very prominent there, and it reflected ideas and growth and the movement of the times. It kind of signaled that. It was in everybody's house. It made everybody conscious, you know, consciously aware. So it was very prominent.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: So much has been said about jazz and the musicians who shaped it, particularly during what many see as the golden era. How do you view jazz today?

Mr. RONEY: I think we have to keep making it vital. The golden era, as they call it, I still think it's still here. It's just been a little dormant because they people that are trying to push the envelope are not getting the recognition.

GORDON: Here is what I find interesting, and often it gets lost in that true jazz discussion. The idea of taking and interpreting--not necessarily copying, but interpreting standards or popular song. You've tried to keep that tradition alive, haven't you?

Mr. RONEY: Yes. You said it.

GORDON: Talk to me about how you do that and how you pick your songs.

Mr. RONEY: Well, I pick my songs as something that moves me, a melody that moves me; it's relating to our experience; it has to be beautiful; and it has to have the Blues in it, as well. And you take that melody and then you shape it with things that you feel, and the things that's going on around you.

(Soundbite of song "Just my Imagination")

GORDON: So, for instance, on the latest album, you have the temptations classic, 'Just My Imagination.' You don't just do the rendition, an instrumental of it, but you put your own take to it.

Mr. RONEY: It's a beautiful melody within itself. The music that we play, we can stretch the harmonies and really redo it. We can re-orchestrate it. And in then I've added not only African American rhythms to it, I add some direct African rhythms along with it, and you're starting to do some innovative work.

(Soundbite of song "Just my Imagination")

GORDON: Talk to me about what I hear you have, and you hear this of certain musicians, and that's the perfect pitch--your ear. Can you really design what the note is quickly just by hearing it?

Mr. RONEY: Yes. What it is is you can identify pitch whenever you hear it. And I guess I knew I had it, but I didn't realize what it was called until I was around nine or 10 years old, and my instructor identified it for me.

GORDON: What does that do for you in terms of being able to play that someone who doesn't have it has to work at?

Mr. RONEY: Well, it's tremendous because you can hear everything inside the music. You can hear all the inner parts, as well as the obvious parts. And when I go to play with other musicians, it doesn't take long for me to hear what they're doing because I can hear the form, and I can hear the bass notes and the harmony the piano player plays; and I can sit in a tune that I've never played before, usually.

(Soundbite of song "Just my Imagination")

GORDON: I want to take you back to the idea of race and music. There's a sense of the importance of not losing the root of the music. When you talk about traditional jazz, much of that audience will be white. Does it bother you at all that Black America has not necessarily embraced what we created?

Mr. RONEY: Yes, it does. And that's what I would like us to do, reclaim it, along with the rest of the world. Because, if it wasn't that great of a music, everybody else wouldn't be acknowledging it. We're the only ones that don't acknowledge what we created. And the blues is what made us overcome--and jazz was the innovative part of that music. It is the classical music of this world.

GORDON: Let me ask you this, entertainer, artist, musician, if you had to pick one, how would you see yourself?

Mr. RONEY: Artist. I think a musician is a high honor. I think an artist is someone that plays everything better than the average musician. And I think entertainer is one that gives you the package of a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and gives you a show. I don't think artists necessarily have to give you a visual show. They give you a spiritual show.

GORDON: All right. Wallace Roney. The new album is Mystical. And good talking to you.

Mr. RONEY: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: That's our program for today. Thanks for joining us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. And if you'd like to comment, call us at 202-408-3330. NEWS AND NOTES was created by NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium.

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