John Wallace grew up in the Brass Band tradition in Scotland. In 1965 he toured Europe with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and went on to become Principal Trumpet with the Philharmonia Orchestra after periods with the Royal Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras as Assistant Principal Trumpet. In 2002 he returned to Scotland to become Principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a multidisciplinary institution of Drama, Dance, Production, Screen and Music. He left this position in September 2014 to resume his musical career, reforming his brass ensemble, the New Wallace Collection, and composing new music for brass.
During his first career as a trumpet player, John played concertos with many conductors including Simon Rattle, Andrew Davis, Riccardo Muti, Guiseppe Sinopoli, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Leonard Slatkin, and premiered new works by Malcolm Arnold, Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, James Macmillan, Tim Souster, Robert Saxton, Mark Antony Turnage, HK Gruber, Dominic Muldeowney, and Robert Saxton, amongst many others.
With Trevor Herbert he co-edited the Cambridge University Press Companion to Brass Instruments and wrote, with Alexander McGrattan, a history of The Trumpet, published in 2012 by Yale University Press.