In 1966 a landmark suite of orchestral jazz was written for Miles Davis and set to be recorded by The Miles Davis Quintet. That moment would never happen. The quintet broke up and the compositions were lost for 50 years…until they were finally recovered by Miles’ only protégé, Wallace Roney–the one man Miles would trust to fulfill his wish.
At the height of the Miles Davis Quintet’s fame in 1966, Wayne Shorter wrote a suite of orchestral jazz songs entitled “The Universe Compositions.” Intended for a 24-piece orchestra, the compositions were immense, ambitious works that answered the call of psychedelic rock-n-roll, cool jazz, and the rigors of classical music. When Miles first saw the sheet music, he looked up at Shorter and said, “I asked for a song and you gave me a f*ckin’ symphony.”
The band had begun rehearsing the compositions when the Quintet dissolved. As the band fell apart, The Universe Compositions were lost. It was Miles’ final wish before he passed away in 1991 that Wayne Shorter “find the music.” 50 years after their disappearance, The Universe Compositions are recovered by Miles’ only protege, Wallace Roney, and debuted for the first time in history.
The story of Wallace Roney and The Universe Compositions is the story of missing links. Universe is the piece of music that would have bridged two eras of jazz. It is the masterpiece that Miles Davis never recorded. And for Wallace Roney, it was the bridge between mentorship and mastery.
Wallace staked his entire life on the belief that jazz is not just a music of the past; that it still retains the power to uplift whole communities; that it is spiritual, difficult, and satisfying and can speak to the African-American experience. As Wallace Roney puts it, “Jazz was the music that my father and his friends used to uplift themselves. To better themselves.”
In December 2015, Directors for the film, Nick Capezzera and Sam Osborn approached Wallace Roney with the idea of documenting the recording and performance of the full suite of the Universe Compositions. The two filmmakers had previously collaborated on two seasons of a digital documentary series for Jazz at Lincoln Center entitled “Recollect.”
Mr. Roney agreed to document the process and production began in February 2016. Two months later, Roney brought a large group of musicians to Water Music Recorders in New Jersey for a week-long studio session to record the music. The following April, Roney was able to debut the full suite of music at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center as the opening night performance of the Tribute to Wayne Shorter.
Filming continued with Roney until the Summer of 2019, with production trips to Roney’s childhood homes in Philadelphia and Washington D.C., and to Los Angeles to film an interview with the music’s composer, Wayne Shorter. The filmmakers ultimately followed Roney for four years, editing the film on and off as they were able to.
The film was tentatively completed in early 2020, only a month before Mr. Roney passed away due to complications with COVID-19. Giving new meaning and poignancy to the documentary.
Universe has been selected by the 2020 Sheffield DocFest as a World Premiere in the Rhythm & Rhyme section of the film festival. Currently, it is only available via the 2020 Sheffield DocFest at this link and may involve a paid subscription: Universe
The trailer for the film follows: