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The New Cool: Theo Croker Pushes His Legacy Forward

Marc Ressang
Theo Croker blows red hot trumpet.

You might imagine Doc Cheatham raising his eyebrows at the sounds of his grandson's music. Trumpeter Theo Croker was inspired to play by watching his famous trumpeter and band leader grandpa, but his young career has been driven by musical exploration.

Raised in Florida, Croker began to attract attention as a trumpeter in his teens, which led to being doggedly recruited by jazz legend Donald Byrd to study in the jazz program at Oberlin College.

After college, Croker's talents took him to Shanghai, China where over seven years he began to broaden his jazz to include various styles from blues and salsa to progressive rock and wild drum n' bass. He kept in contact with friends shuttling between New York and China, while putting together his fusion-heavy AfroSonic Orchestra, and Croker even led a "Tonight Show"-style band on Shanghai's "Asia Uncut Star Network."

Upon returning to the U.S. about four years ago, Theo Croker teamed up with the great jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, whom he'd met in Shanghai. She signed Theo to her DDB record label and helped produce his 3rd album as a leader, "Afro Physicist."

Blending his love of the soulful 70s and the modern styles he'd embraced in Shanghai, Croker developed a stylistic pastiche that led JazzTimes Magazine to call him "an avatar of genre-defying postmodernism."

A year ago, Theo Croker's "Escape Velocity" album continued his move into hip-hop territory with his Dvrk Funk band - which recommended to younger listeners for its ability to "rattle their trunks" with the thick bass lines. Heavily groovy, full of smart and catchy melodies and that bass, "Escape Velocity" could be a jazz gateway for young music lovers who haven't discovered jazz yet.

The New Cool has embraced Croker's music as we strive to attract those same jazz neophytes, don't sleep through the show this week when we feature a rocking tune with a slow burn intro and trumpet riffs worthy of a guitar god on his tune "Light Skinned Beauty". As Downbeat Magazine notes, "Croker is an incredibly talented artist we will be listening to for a very long time."

The New Cool airs Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.