Theo Croker: Ace of Trumps
TC: Film scoring is very new for me, and I haven't done anything major. I've done some independent films with people that I've known. The most significant thing for me was a pilot for a documentary on domestic abuse for HBO. It had really powerful images and a really powerful story, and the music was deep and powerful. That was very cool, because the music, tied in with the images, had a really big impact. It meant a lot for me, like I was contributing to society in creating that soundtrack. And the music was... [pauses] felt. I think it's a challenge for me to write a happy song. I don't mean that everything I write is sad, but my music has a darkness to it. It's not giddy or anything like that.
AAJ: What do you want to reach out to people with in your music?
TC: I don't know yet, that's still part of what I'm trying to find out. I think the process for me is a lifelong process. The statements that I do put out are about presenting something you believe in to people, and that goes for all my compositions. For The Fundamentals, I believed in the concepts behind the songs and the musicians also believed in what they were playing, and those beliefs are our fundamentals, our basis. Then after that, my second album, In the Tradition, is about where I come from. Somebody approached me and asked me to play a tribute to my grandfather, and I said, well I'm not him, and I can't be him, but I can play the songs that I remember hearing him play. I chose songs that I liked and played them in a traditional style, but as me, not as him.
AAJ: On that album, you sing as well. Is that something we'll hear more of in the future?
TC: Yeah, that's a very old school way of singing. It was the way my grandfather sang. I was at a festival one day, I think at the Lincoln Center, and one of the producers asked me to sing "I Guess I'll Get The Papers and Go Home," which was one of my grandfather's theme songs [as well as the name of Doc Cheatham's 1996 autobiography, published by Cassell], so I just got up there and sang it like he would sing it. Years later I was in the studio with the same producer and he said, "You're singing. Which of these songs do you know the words to?" I tend not to sing live because it's not really something that I've worked out.
AAJ: And your upcoming album, The Time Is Now, what is that one all about?
TC: The first song is called "Change (Freedom Song)," and it reflects how society is changing, how culture is changing, how America is changing. The Time is Now refers to people suddenly realizing that things aren't what they appear to be, with the financial crisis and companies like Enron. You have to go back to the things that you can hold on to, the meat and potatoes. It's time for people with integrity to stand up, and time for the bull-shitters to sit down. The time is now, if you have integrity, to present it. The time is now, if you are Obama, to lead the free world. That's the underlying context of the album.
The other tune titles reflect that, like "Restless," which is like, I'm tired of sitting here waiting for somebody to make something happen for me, I'm gonna make it happen for myself. "What If" is [about] a question that's always crazy to ask, and the fourth song, "Directions," [is about] moving and where are we going.
AAJ: What's the jazz scene like in Shanghai for musicians?
TC: Well, in other places, you may have a lot of people who know the standard repertoire and the historical progression of jazz, but here, jazz is still new to a lot of people. The preconception of who I am as a jazz musician here is completely different and unique to anywhere else in the world. [Audiences] here are not holding me to any expectations, so that really opens the door, and anytime you open that door, which can mean good and bad things. [Musicians] who are really pushing and have a lot of integrity in their music have a fresh audience to play for without any preconceptions, while [musicians] that are bull-shitting, can bullshit. And there are a lot of bull-shitters out there, because it's easier to bull-shit.
TC: Oh, so many things. New York has harbored jazz musicians for at least a century, so you're playing for a well-informed audience and around well-informed musicians. That's the biggest difference. But when you try to do your own thing, you come off really left-sided. When you do your own thing here, it's not like that. For example when Alec Haavik plays here, [his music] is not considered left- sided, it's just him, just Alec. Society's not trying to dampen what he wants to do. But in New York you can come off the wrong way and people just say, "No, we're not into that, that's not jazz, this and that." Alec's not even calling it jazz, it's just him.