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March 5, 2010

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Croker offers the real jazz deal

THEO Croker, the ubiquitous trumpeter and composer from New York, believes in the real deal. His pursuit of music is based on individuality, personality and integrity, where an artist transcends tradition and creates his own voice.

Croker and his sextet will perform a jazz concert, "Path of Transcendence," this Sunday at Shanghai Oriental Art Center.

Other members in the band are Jonathan Parker (alto saxophone), Andres Boiarsky (tenor saxophone), Nicholas Bouloukos (piano), Curtis Ostle (bass) and Charles Foldesh (drums).

Croker was born in 1985 and raised in Leesburg, Central Florida. Today he lives and plays in Shanghai where from September 2007 through January 2008 his quartet was in residence at The House of Blues and Jazz.

In March 2008, the Theo Croker Quartet released "In The Tradition" on Arbors Records, featuring Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums, Sullivan Fortner on piano and Joe Sanders on bass.

The upcoming concert in Shanghai will provide a channel for Croker to present his latest suite of music, "Path of Transcendence," composed specifically for the concert - free of interruption and inhibition.

The audience will be able to connect with a side of Croker and his sextet that is different from the Shanghai club scene.

"I first got to know Theo Croker after he returned from a gig in China (Shanghai's House of Blues and Jazz) and he was so impressive. On first hearing his trumpet on the immediately distinctive recording, I was struck by his "signature sounds" - personal and indeed "in the tradition," but also contributing to the future," Nat Hentoff, American legendary jazz critic once commented.

"His is a voice speaking directly to the listener, and his avoidance of show boating technique reminded me of what Count Basie once said to Buck Clayton: 'I'd give 1,000 dollars to find a trumpet player who doesn't play so many notes.'

"Furthermore, listening to Theo on ballads, it was at first hard to believe someone so young was able to sound as if he'd had extensive experience with affairs of the heart, gaining and losing love," he added.

The inspiration for the new suite comes from Shanghai, the city. It's Croker's experience of doing whatever he wants and working with different genres - salsa bands, blues bands, rock fusion jazz big bands and Chinese bands.

"I've had the opportunity through playing music in Shanghai to learn about myself as a musician and explore all the facets of life," says Croker.

"Shanghai is an open city for musicians to do whatever they want and to make a living by doing whatever you want. What we play here is Shanghai sound. My music develops here. It transcends here. So what 'Path of Transcendence' means to me, it means Shanghai."

There will be a couple of stories within the suite but they're mostly about Crocker's own experiences, one of them about his experiences in Singapore.

"It didn't happen in Shanghai, but if I had never got to Shanghai, very probably I would not have had such an experience in Singapore.

"Every time I went to Singapore was from Shanghai. And I returned to Shanghai feeling like being back home," says Croker.

Some of the songs were written for people in the band.

Another song is entitled "Baby Just Say It to Me," encouraging a lover to speak out his feelings.

Croker is proud of his music and he regards himself as a true artist.

"I am not an entertainer. I'm not a musician. I'm an artist," he says.

When Crocker started learning the trumpet at school, he realized that in jazz ensembles or in jazz classes, the point was not to play the written notes.

"Playing with somebody else expresses the point to express yourself," he says. "The point is to find your own sound on the instrument."

Croker is expressing and exerting himself in his music.

"Artists have to play their own music, or play others' music in their own way, in a way it's clearly them, not anyone else.

"If I am playing a Stevie Wonder song, I'm playing it my way. It's not a Stevie Wonder anymore. It will be my song," he says.

Inspiration is very important for him to achieve his own sound on the trumpet.

"You need to be transparent," he says. "The technical side is the same as anybody. I do the same things that everybody else does technically. There's no secret. But you have to have a concept and a sound in mind."

The element of jazz in Croker's music is to create something organic in the moment. And audiences are encouraged to join in the creative process in their minds.

Croker describes his music as eccentric, effervescent, loud, exciting, energetic, conceptual, thoughtful, selfish, angry, joyful, happy and sad, the whole range of human emotions.

"The point of playing music is to get people to forget about their life for a moment and enjoy what it is that they are hearing," he says.

Crocker is also working on an Afro-beat band with the drummer named Alex Ritz.

And these days he has a band playing on the TV show "Asia Uncut." In April and May he will return to the United States to tour with his overseas quartet with which he recorded a yet to be released album last year.

Date: March 7, 3pm

Venue: Shanghai Oriental Art Center, 425 Dingxiang Rd, Pudong

Tickets: 60-300 yuan

Tel: 6431-1075


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