By Michael Curry

While the Arts Festival has enjoyed  an impeccable reputation as a presenter of world class artists, it  also  continues to discover and nurture great international talent across all artistic genres. The latest of these discoveries in an amazing young trumpeter Theo Croker who makes his debut at the Festival with his Quintet on May 9.

He is a trumpeter par excellence, a bandleader, composer and trailblazer. Don’t miss this one and be among the first in Hampton Roads to experience his amazing artistry.

As the grandson of the legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham jazz is in Theo Croker’s genes, He has not only stepped into the shoes of his original mentor, but he has and continues to make those shoes bigger!  He collaborates and shines with some of the greats of our generation including Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove and Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra,  to name just a few.

Theo is one of those adventurous types who, together with his collaborators on stage explore and rediscover fundamental traditions but always take those traditions a step further. He is revered for his beautiful smooth (legato) tone and a rare vision to embrace all kinds of influences and meld those influences into a sound and idiom which is very distinctly his own.

As  the superstar of trumpet, Wynton Marsalis recently said of Theo Croker: “He has the tools, the intelligence, the ability and the talents. The future looks bright for Croker.”

Born and raised in Florida, Theo is the second son of civil rights activist William Henry Croker who is also a high school principal and a farmer; his wife, Alicia is a guidance counselor. Theo decided to follow in his grandpa’s footsteps when he heard him perform in New York City. At that time Theo was a youngster of 11 or so and then in his teenage years, he studied music at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville. From there he went on to study for four years at the prestigious music conservatory at Oberlin College. It was there at Oberlin that Theo was mentored by another legend of the trumpet – the great Donald Byrd.  While still at Oberlin, Theo won the coveted Presser Music Foundation Award which actually funded his debut album entitled Fundamentals in 2006.

After his graduation from Oberlin College, Theo moved to China where he spent seven years perfecting his own skills while learning and observing from some of the masters on the world jazz scene. Theo took up a position as Artist in Residence at the legendary Shanghai House of Blues – a remarkable venue that is often described as a living room for musicians from around the globe. Since 1995, the Shaghai club has maintained an enviable reputation as the place to go for the best in blues and jazz. While in China, he released his second album , In The Tradition, ((2009 ) which is a loving tribute to his grandfather and the traditions that he grew up surrounded by. 

Then in 2010, he became the very first Artist in Residence at the Peace Hotel Jazz Bar in Shanghai – the oldest and longest running jazz club in China – dating back to the 1920s when it was known as the famed Cathay Hotel.

He is equally at home and at ease whether he is playing standards, swinging post-bop or more groove oriented electric jazz. 

His music continues to evolve, based firmly in his own love of organic funk, soul and what he likes to describe as “gooey, groove-oriented hip hop”.  As well as serving as Artist in Residence, Croker was engaged as the house band for the Asia Uncut Star Network – a late night TV show modeled on the successful formula of America’s long running Tonight Show. There Theo served as music director, band leader and in house composer.

In 2010 he met and performed for the first time with the legendary Dee Dee Bridgewater, establishing a long lasting and mutually beneficial friendship and partnership. It was Bridgewater who continued to encourage the young musician’s remarkable development and it was she who produced Croker’s third solo album, Afro Physicist which was released in 2014. 

On this highly acclaimed album, Croker weaves elements of funk, Latin jazz and hip hop further cementing his reputation as “a truly masterful musician” according to the Rochester City Newspaper. That paper’s critic went on to say that “the variety of sounds and timbres that Croker coaxed from his instrument was kaleidoscopic….a rare mix of control and innovation that can only be achieved through serious study and countless hours of exploration”.

His fourth and most recent album, Escape Velocity is a sprawling genre bending journey through bee bop, soul, funk, R & B and beyond. In addition to his innate love and mastery of jazz, Croker writes and produces hip hop, rap, film scores and contemporary classical music. The Wall Street Journal heralded Escape Velocity as “timeless and of the moment. Croker proved that he’s got deep ideas about life, spirituality and how music connects us all.

While in China, he continued to broaden his concept of jazz – indeed, he still does and that is one of the many things, along with his phenomenal talent and musical intelligence that makes him a rising star on the international jazz stage. He was also featured in the much heralded PBS Documentary Jazz-A Film by Ken Burns in 2017.



Theo Croker Quintet

May 9, 7:30 PM

Zeiders American Dream Theatre