@ the Rich Mix
20 November 2016
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Theo Croker fits into two out of three of the Bard’s categories.
His talent is innate; he inherited a unique gift from his grandfather,
the legendary trumpet player Doc Cheatham. But, Crocker is also
This is one young musician who is not afraid of greatness, or
the hard work and dedication it takes to get there.
Theo Croker was born and raised in Leesburg, in central Florida,
on July 18, 1985. Leesburg was not exactly a hotbed of music, and
Crocker wasn’t exactly born with a horn in his hand. He first
picked one up at the age of eleven, after a visit to New York City
where he heard his grandfather play at Sweet Basil. (Doc Cheatham
died the following year, at 92, in 1997.) Crocker continued to listen
to Doc’s recordings. “He had a very appealing sound,
the strength behind it was always a melody,” Crocker
“I would just sit in my room and play my trumpet for
hours without knowing what I was doing. I would slowly teach myself
new notes and play along with recordings of my grandfather and other
greats. I noticed that I could fit in with what I was hearing harmonically.”
It was at a memorial service for his grandfather when he had his
first chance to perform for jazz-savvy audience. “I was
only twelve years old, but the way the music touched people and
the way it made me feel was enough to set me for life. I knew it
was what I wanted to do.”
At sixteen, Crocker moved, on his own, to Jacksonville, Florida
so he could attend The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. It didn’t
take long before people noticed his talent. In 2004, Theo became
the first artist in residence at the Ritz Theatre (a former black
movie house transformed into a museum with a performance space).
There he was commissioned to compose original works for the three
separate groups: a seventeen-piece band and Septet he led, as well
as an eighty-member choir (The Ritz Voices).
After high school, Crocker had his pick of the country’s
finest music schools, but the great Donald Byrd, the multi-Grammy
Award winning composer and recording artist, was like a magnet that
pulled him to the Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio. “My
father died when I was eighteen, and he was a huge Donald Byrd fan.
I remember seeing and hearing his records when I was young.”
Other Jazz legends like Gary Bartz, Robin Eubanks, Billy Hart, Wednell
Logan, Marcus Belgrave, and Dan Wall also taught at Oberlin.
“I didn’t want to study with teachers once I knew
I could study with actual players, active Jazz legends. That made
the call for me,” Crocker says.
After graduating from Oberlin in 2007, Crocker began his postgraduate
education, hanging out and playing with older musicians like Benny
Powell, Jimmy and Tootie Heath, Billy Hart, and Marcus Belgrave.
“They taught me how to live my life. Things not to do
that they did, and things to do that they didn’t.”
Theo Crocker resists musical categories, a concept driven into
him by his conservatory education. As deeply immersed in jazz as
he is, Theo also writes and produces hip-hop, rap, and film scores,
along with contemporary classical music, and other forms. So many
of the greats have influenced him: Louis Armstrong, Doc Cheatham,
Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Donald Byrd, Freddie
Hubbard, Booker Little, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Marcus Belgrave,
as well as contemporaries like Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas
Payton, Terrence Blanchard. Composers like John Coltrane, Wayne
Shorter, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, and too many others to name.
Other strong influences come from hip hop & R&B: Stevie
Wonder, Digable Planets, Outkast, Quincy Jones, Pharell, and many,
many others. All of Theo’s heroes live (or lived) their lives
for the music.
Theo Crocker received the Presser Music Foundation Award in the
spring of 2006. He used the grant money to record his first album,
The Fundamentals, in New York City with his band The Theo Croker
Sextet. The band’s members are all in their early twenties
and each is as impressive as the next; they define the ambitious
and highly-skilled lions of their generation. The Fundamentals includes
ten tunes, all composed and arranged by Crocker. It can currently
be heard playing all over the world, in places such as Australia,
The Netherlands, London, Quebec, New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland,
Greece, Ukraine, Germany, Portugal, Scotland, France, Poland, Columbia,
Turkey, and the Central Republic of Africa.
The response has been incredible. Donald Byrd praises Crocker’s
musicianship: “There are good, great and nice musical
players, but then there are phenomenal instrumentalist such as Theo.
I would place Theo in a class of musicians who will redirect the
flow, change and alter the current of today’s New Jazz. Theo
has the ability and the intelligence to challenge the direction
of Nu Music. Theo is one of today’s titans. He is a Sankofa”.
Marcus Belgrave wrote: “Theo Croker is one of the most
promising and creative trumpeters on the horizon today and is also
one of the most energetic artists I have ever encountered.”
Wynton Marsalis said: “He has the tools, the intelligence,
the ability and the talents. The future looks bright for Croker.”
Today, Theo Crocker lives and plays in Shanghai, China, where
from September 2007 through January 2008 his Quartet held residency
at the “The House of Blues and Jazz.” In March 2008
the Theo Croker Quartet released In The Tradition, on Arbors Records,
featuring Albert “Tootie” Heath on Drums, Sullivan Fortner
on Piano & Joe Sanders on Bass.