Theo Croker was born and raised in central Florida but at the age of eleven he heard his grandfather Doc Cheatham play in New York. Doc died the following year but Theo continued to listen to his recordings. “I would just sit in my room and play my trumpet for hours without knowing what I was doing. I would slowly teach myself new notes and play along with recordings of my grandfather and other greats. I noticed the I could fit in with what I was hearing harmonically.”
He had his first chance to perform for a jazz audience at a memorial service for his grandfather. “I was only twelve years old, but the way the music touched people and the way it made me feel was enough to set me up for life. I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
At sixteen, Theo moved to Jacksonville, Florida and in 2004 and after musical studies he became the first artist in residence at the Ritz Theatre (a former black movie house transformed into a museum with a performance space) where he was commissioned to compose original works for three separate groups: a seventeen-piece band and Septet he led, as well as an eighty-member choir (The Ritz Voices)!
Theo had his pick of the country’s finest music schools, but the great Donald Byrd was like a magnet that pulled him to the Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio. “My father died when I was eighteen, and he was a huge Donald Byrd fan. I remember seeing and hearing his records when I was young.” Other Jazz legends like Gary Bartz, Robin Eubanks, Billy Hart, Wednell Logan, Marcus Belgrave, and Dan Wall also taught at Oberlin..
After graduating from Oberlin in 2007, Theo began his postgraduate education, hanging out and playing with older musicians like Benny Powell, Jimmy and Tootie Heath, Billy Hart, and Marcus Belgrave. They taught me how to live my life. Things not to do that they did, and things to do that they didn’t.”
Theo resists musical categories, he is deeply immersed in jazz but also writes and produces hip-hop, rap, and film scores, along with contemporary classical music, and other forms. Theo received the Presser Music Foundation Award in the spring of 2006. He used the grant money to record his first album, The Fundamentals, in New York City with his band The Theo Croker Sextet.
The record collected many garlands for Theo: Marcus Belgrave wrote: “Theo Croker is one of the most promising and creative trumpeters on the horizon today and is also one of the most energetic artists I have ever encountered.”, while Wynton Marsalis said: “He has the tools, the intelligence, the ability and the talents. The future looks bright for Croker.” The legendary Jazz critic Nat Hentoff added: I first got to know 23-year-old 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 its future.”
Today, Theo lives and plays in Shanghai, China, where he is resident at the newly restored Peace Hotel, playing gigs throughout the city and in other parts of China. Blues to Bop is proud to be the first European Festival to feature a wide range of music from this extraordinary musician.

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