Theo Croker: Ace of Trumps
“ It's time for people with integrity to stand up, and time for the bullshitters to sit down. Theo Croker ”
AAJ: Can you pinpoint the moment when that first musical seed was planted?
TC: I don't even know, it's just always been there. When I was a little kid I remember taking three hour baths and beating on the bath tub and shower stall with chopsticks until I was shooed out of the bathroom [chuckles]. I was always making musical sounds. If I saw a movie and liked the soundtrack, I'd be singing the orchestra parts all the way home. My grandfather was a jazz musician so we always had jazz in the house. My mom's of Argentine descent and she loves to tango and all sorts of Latin music, and my dad, he was a cool cat, he liked jazz and R&B. They liked music, not so much popular music, but musical music, so it was always there.
AAJ: How'd you decide on the trumpet?
TC: My grandfather, Doc Cheatham, played the trumpet, and my older brother did, too. I used to sneak into [my older brother's] room when he wasn't home and play his trumpet. My parents said to me, "You don't have to play the trumpet just because they play the trumpet, you can play any instrument you want," but I said, "No, I want to play the trumpet." And that was that. Every other instrument just looked funny to me. Even when I learned other instruments after that, I learned them through the trumpet.
AAJ: What's one track or album that has had a major impact on you as a musician?
TC: There's so much. When I first starting listening to CDs, it was after my grandfather died and Verve Records gave me a box of all the CDs they'd put out that year. I went through that box, I still have all of those albums, and the one that caught me was a compilation on the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespiecalled Talkin' Verve (Verve, 1997). He was one of the hipsters in jazz who brought it into the bebop and cool era. So as a little kid I was really into that and into the fact that it was heavy swing. It wasn't pop-ish or funk-ish, it was pretty hard-core swing. That set the standard for me for the next five or six years; if it wasn't swing, I wasn't into it. I was thirteen years old and asking "Where's the swing?" [smiles]. It was kind of strange.
AAJ: Other than a trumpeter, you have also led a 17-piece big band and an 80-person young adult choir. What type of stage performance do you enjoy the most?
TC: Oh wow, that was a long time ago, a lot of people don't know about that. I love playing at festivals and outdoor concerts because of the open space. Bars and clubs are cool and very intimate, but it's not always about the music. Outdoor festivals can be like that, too. In a concert hall, you go there to present something to people, with an overall theme, dealing with different emotions and colors. You can really bond with people in that kind of setting. You know that people are there to listen.
AAJ: Other than a jazz composer, you've also scored film, produced hip-hop and composed modern classical music. Do the different genres affect you when you write?