As Miles Davis' anointed successor, Wallace Roney is an ideal trumpet player for "Portrait of Miles: A 75th Birthday Tribute" two evenings of concerts and presentations hosted by California Center for the Arts, Escondido on Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2.
For the best part of two years the event has developed organically as the brainchild of the Center's director of performing arts, Randy Vogel. In the last 15 months UCSD's Prof. Quincy Troupe has played a key role. The Quincy Troupe project culminates at 8 p.m. Friday night in a multi-media presentation of film and clips entitled "From Kinda Blue to Bitches Brew."
Roney will be among the panel of Davis alumni participating, as will bass clarinetist Bennie Maupin. "Whoever heard of a bass clarinet playing jazz before 'Bitches Brew'?" asked Vogel, to emphasize one of the significant occasions Davis had transformed music for posterity.
When Roney was 23, already established as a former child prodigy and Jazz Messenger, he was sitting-in at Davis' rehearsals. "I was hanging around with him. If Miles showed up late I used to be in there playing," Roney said.
Eight years later Davis invited Roney to perform with him in the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival concert of Gil Evans arrangements. "He asked me because he liked me," Roney said. "And because I was his protégé anyway."
But Davis was so ill that death was only months away. Some say it was because his powers were declining that he needed the younger man's help with the more demanding passages.
With benefit of ten years' hindsight Roney insists this was not obvious. "I didn't know that. We had a great time," Roney said. "He looked really great. One time he had to stop to rest but, I mean, he was 65 years old, and you do rest when you're 65."
And yet Davis' music will not rest, even on what would have been the innovator's 75th birthday. To be retrospective would present no challenge. The recordings are available as digitally remastered CDs.
Davis alumnus John McLaughlin happened to ask Vogel: "What do you want to accomplish, musically?" And, inspired by that remark, Vogel resolved that a celebration of Miles Davis' music should have a progressive dynamic.
This is the thinking behind the all-star concert slated for the Saturday evening when Roney will lead such distinguished Miles Davis alumni as: Gary Bartz (alto-sax); Adam Holtzman (keyboards); Lenny White (drums); Buster Williams (bass); and Benny Maupin (bass-clarinet) and Patrice Rushen (keyboards).
"People see this band and they can see Miles' band there," Roney said. "But these are the most creative artists in the world today and they're still willing to play creative music."
With the exception of Rushen, these are all musicians Roney normally counts as his band members. But he acknowledged that at the Escondido concert they will place more emphasis on the Davis legacy than they normally would when gigging their own material. However, "Even in my band I feel like Miles is my mentor," he said. "So every time I pick up my horn it's like a tribute anyway."
Roney dismissed any suggestion that his career was overshadowed by his mentor. "I don't like none of that. If I lived in his shadow, then he must have lived in Dizzy Gillespie's shadow," he said. "I'm playing music. I'm taking the best that I learned from him and I'm trying to play."
The Museum of Making Music will curate an exhibition of Miles Davis memorabilia to be on display in the lobby of The Center's Concert Hall on both days of the event. On both evenings the Center will host San Diego downtown jazz café, Dizzy's, as Dizzy's North to stage outdoor late-night jam sessions from 10 p.m. On Friday This will feature the Mikan Zlatkovich Trio with Gilbert Castellanos and, on Saturday, Joe Marillo.
Tickets are $24 for "From Kinda Blue to Bitches Brew" hosted by Quincy Troupe (Friday, June 1). Tickets for the all-star concert (Saturday, June 2) are $25, $35 and $45. Both events will be in the Concert Hall. A Weekend Jazz Pass (admission to both dates) offers a 10% discount over individual ticket prices: e.g. $43, $53, and $63.
Book by phone at 1-800-98TICKET (1-800-988-4253); or through Ticketmaster at (619) 220-TIXS, and online at artcenter.org. For more information, call 1-800-98TICKET (1-800-988-4253), or browse www.artcenter.org.