Brushes With Greatness

I was sad to hear about Wallace Roney’s passing; he was a tremendous trumpeter. I crossed paths with him memorably twice:

In 1979 or 1980, My fellow New England Conservatory jazzers (Steve Johns and Ed Felson) got hired to back up sax heavies Sal Nistico and Jimmy Mosher at Michael’s in Boston. I was pretty nervous, because I had never really played with a lot of older great players. As I recall, the first set went fine, and then we hung out in the tiny, stuffy band room. We were passing around a bottle of something, listening to Sal talk about being a junkie when I passed out. Fainted. Out of the blue. When I came to, Ed was standing over me, saying “What the hell happened? You scared the shit out of us!” The police and EMT’s showed up, and I had to convince them that I was okay (which I wasn’t; extremely groggy is what I recall). And I think that the owners were also freaked out, partially because other substances may have been passed around, too.

After that, I think that I tried to play a tune or two before being relieved of my duties. But I remember that Wallace Roney (a hot young mofo trumpeter at Berklee) played a bunch of tunes (maybe/maybe not with me) and sounded fantastic.

Twenty years later, I had the incredible fortune (thanks, Arnie Roth) of being part of the local orchestra to back up Joni Mitchell on her tour. The CD she was promoting featured Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock, but neither one was doing the tour. I was looking at the piano parts before rehearsal started, not-so-subtly doing my Herbie imitation when I knew that the conductor (Vince Mendoza) was within earshot. After a minute or two, he said, “I’ve got good news and bad news: The bad news is that there won’t be any piano solos. We gave them all to Wallace Roney for the tour. The good news is that we won’t be needing you during the first hour of the rehearsal, so you can go do some shopping if you want.” I was disappointed, but I certainly understood. And, in the end, I was thrilled to have sat at the piano, in the middle of a 60-piece orchestra, four feet behind Joni, playing with Wallace Roney, Bob Shepard, Chuck Berghofer and Peter Erskine.