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Theo Croker: Ace of Trumps

By Published: September 23, 2009

Theo Croker[Croker's M.I.A. degree is from Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, U.S.A. Fellow alumni in Shanghai's music scene include trumpeter JQ Whitcomb, alto saxophonist Jonathan Parker, drummer Charles Foldesh

, bassist Curtis Ostle, and drummer Alex Ritz.]

Here in Shanghai, jazz is not institutionalized. The way jazz and live music is perceived here is the way it used to be perceived in New York and New Orleans. That's why I come here, that's what I'm attracted to, that rawness of it. Jazz and its improvisational aspect deal with the moment, with right now, which is what makes it so healing. You've had a bad day, you come to see us play, and we're gonna play for you right now. We're gonna give you something to help you deal with what's going on right now. That kind of lively atmosphere is something that I like.

AAJ: It's not like that in New York?

TC: No, maybe in the places that open up at two or three in the morning, but jazz there is pretty much: you go to a place, you pay the cover, you sit down, you listen, and then you leave. What's caught there that's missed here though are all the little nuances. The whole night has a shape, you're taken on a journey. Here, you're listening to song after song. There, you're sitting crunched below the saxophonist, and you're being told a story. You hear every nuance, every detail, every feeling of the story. It's like a bed-time story. That part is something that hasn't been created here yet. But it's coming. If you look at the process of jazz in the States, it didn't start out like that either.

AAJ: What kind of projects are you working on now?

TC: I'm starting to bring different genres into my music that will change the process of how I make music. The project that I am thinking of will have two drummers, very virtuosic drummers, electric and bass guitars using a lot of different effects achieved through pedals, and I'm going to plug my trumpet in as well with a lot of effects. That would be the core of the band. We want to bring in different keyboardists and Chinese vocalists who will write lyrics in Chinese to go with my music. Taking the Chinese language and singer and putting them together with jazz and other styles that are largely American, all in the context of Shanghai, should be very interesting.

AAJ: Sounds like you're pretty excited about this new project.

TC: Yeah, because it's a very modern view of playing music. The people in the band aren't originally from China and we've learned styles and skills from other places that we're going to mix with the music and the culture here. I think [the album] could add to the culture in China and Shanghai, because there's an international music scene happening here. The musicians here, we'd like to push the music to another level. It's a challenge though and hasn't gotten through yet. I'd really like to be part of that process here in Shanghai and contribute to pushing the music to the next level.

AAJ: What about October's JZ Music Festival here in Shanghai? Who are you most looking forward to seeing there?

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