It’s hard to put your finger on Theo Croker. He’s deeply immersed in the jazz tradition, but he also writes and produces hip-hop, rap, film scores and contemporary classical music. At the age of 29 he has earned the title, Renaissance Man.
He was born in Leesburg, Florida and was inspired to pick up a horn at the age of eleven after hearing his grandfather, trumpeter Doc Cheatham (pictured above) at Sweet Basil in New York.
Theo’s first performance took place at a memorial service for his grandfather when he was only twelve. “The way it made me feel was enough to set me for life,” says Theo.
At the age of 16, Theo moved to Jacksonville, Florida where he attended the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and stood out. As word of his talent spread he became the first artist in residence at the Ritz Theatre, where he was commissioned to compose original works.
Theo is a graduate of The Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio, but he credits his time spent under the tutelage of actual players and jazz legends, such as, Benny Powell, Tootie Heath, Billy Hart and Marcus Belgrave with helping him turn the corner, artistically.
His influences run the gamut, from Louis Armstrong and Clifford Brown to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Outkast and Pharell.
Which brings me to his music. In journalist Raul da Gama’s sterling review of Afrophycisist, he describes Theo’s sound as “the epitome of surprise.” According to da Gama, Theo,”comes suddenly from behind and sideways – never from the front – seizing heart and mind like an excited friend … begging a “Guess Who?”
Indeed, Theo Croker is a jazzer who brings the blues, r&b and funk but he can also play a ballad with astonishing maturity. The legendary Jazz critic Nat Hentoff summed up Theo’s sounds as, “personal … in the tradition … and contributing to its future.”
Theo recorded The Fundamentals, his first album as a leader, with the money he received from the Presser Music Foundation Award (2006). The recording includes ten tunes, all composed and arranged by Theo.
Afrophycisist is Theo’s second recording as a leader and his most ambitious. He is joined by producer and vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and vibraphonist Stefon Harris among others. The recording takes flight with a short, unacompanied piece then plunges into tunes by Stevie Wonder (Visions), Michael Jackson (I Can’t Help It) and Roy Hargrove (Roy Allen). Along the way Theo and Dee Dee Bridgewater tip their hats to the mighty King Pleasure (Moody’s Mood for Love), Buddy Johnson (Save Your Love For Me) and “Bra Hugh” AKA Hugh Masekela (Bo Masekela).
Listen to Afrophycisist with an open mind and resist the temptation of putting the music into a box. Afrophysicist is proof that, jazz is a living, breathing entity in a perpetual state of motion.
1. Alapa (For Doc)
3. It’s Not You It’s Me (But You Didn’t Help)
4. Light Skinned Beauty (album version)
5. Wanting Your Love
6. Save Your Love for Me (feat. Dee Dee Bridgewater)
7. Visions (feat. Stefon Harris)
8. The Fundamentals
9. Roy Allan (feat. Roy Hargrove)
10. Moody’s Mood for Love (feat. Dee Dee Bridgewater)
11. I Can’t Help It (feat. Dee Dee Bridgewater)
Band: Andrae Murchison, China Moses, David Gilmore, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Irwin Hall, Jason Marshall, Jummaane Smith,Karriem Riggins, Luisito Quintero, MIchael Bowie, Roy Hargrove,Stacy Dillard, Stefon Harris, Sullivan Fortner.