”Croker’s trumpet shines throughout the set, but the album’s success depends on his sonic mastery as a producer.”
– Mike Hobart, Financial Times
This is the closest one can get to the Afro-American roots of jazz at Tampere Jazz Happening, at least this year. The grandfather of trumpetist and composer Theo Croker (b. 1985) was trumpetist Doc Cheatham (1905–1997), who kept performing until his last days, recorded with the blues singer Ma Rainey already in 1926 – as an alto saxophonist – and played in the popular Cab Calloway orchestra for most of the 1930s. And that was only the beginning of an exceptionally long-lasting career.
Yet one would be wrong to assume that Croker, who grew up in Florida, sought to take advantage of this connection or that he would want to return to a golden era of jazz as an artist. On the contrary, one of the central tracks on his latest album (Love Quantum, 2022) is the five-minute Jazz is Dead, backed by hip hop beats, which features rap by drummer and producer Kassa Overall. Gary Bartz, who has recorded with Miles Davis, among others, lends his vocals and alto saxophone solos to the piece.
This is not the first and certainly not the last time jazz is declared dead, though it is well justified, in any case from Theo Croker’s personal point of view. After seven albums, he has started to feel that the label jazz is in fact a detriment to his career and moreover, it actually contravenes his liberating, Afro-futuristic vision. And this is not solely about a personal wish or objective: ”We can set Black music free and watch the vibrations rise,” as is hopefully epitomized in Jazz is Dead: ”Long live music, jazz is dead.”
PHOTOS © Leighton Pope, Obidigbo Nzeribe
Theo Croker – trumpet
Mike King – piano
Eric Wheeler – double bass
Michael Shekwoaga Ode – drums
Louis Shungu – art & sound design