Wave Makers
by Yvonne Gay Fowler

Photo by Eva Green '06

Theodore Croker ’07
Major: Jazz Performance
Hometown: Leesburg, Florida

Theodore Croker knows all about the shoes of his late grandfather, legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham: they are big and internationally known. Croker, a junior at Oberlin majoring in jazz performance, is up to the challenge of filling those shoes; at age 20, he is already recognized as a powerful jazz trumpeter, composer, and arranger.

A protegee of jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, Croker has performed and studied with legendary jazz masters Donald Byrd, Benny Powell, Roy Hargrove, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. At age 17, he was the first artist-in-residence at the Ritz Theatre & La Villa Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, where he organized a jazz orchestra of 15 members, wrote and arranged The African American Suite for an 80-person choir, led jazz education workshops at local schools, and composed original compositions for guest artists such as vibraphonist Roy Ayers. At Oberlin, Croker is a member of the Jazz Septet and co-chair of the Black Musicians Guild. “There’s always pressure,” he says. “And with shoes to fill, you’ve got to fill those shoes and then get your own.”

What do you enjoy about the trumpet? The trumpet is an amplification of my personality. You go to war with the trumpet. You can imitate almost any sound with the trumpet. You can slide around the trumpet. You can play the trumpet aggressively. The trumpet has always interested me.

Best advice ever gotten? “You’ve got to put pressure on yourself to reach the highest level possible and then go beyond that,” by Wynton Marsalis. Also, “If you know the melody, you know
the rhythm of the song,” by Marcus Belgrave, visiting professor of jazz trumpet. Melody is what you remember. It is the point. It is the message. Rhythm enhances the melody. Melody is the only part of a song that can be played alone and still serve a purpose.

Plans after graduation? To get paid. I want to have as many bands, projects, and gigs going as possible. I want to write film scores, produce hip hop albums, do my own hip hop music, write symphonies, play with legends, and travel all seven continents, all for music. I want to jam with some Aborigines, chill with Pygmies, and play with the locals in Cuba. I want to start a school for contemporary music. We have enough conservatories.

Community involvement? I love to visit schools and play and hang with the kids.

Favorite instructors? Wendell Logan, Donald Byrd, Marcus Belgrave, Brian Alegant, Johnny Coleman, and Caroline Jackson-Smith.

Career goal? I don’t have one; a career goal is a limit.

Life goal? To stay happy and make other people happy.

Advice for peers looking to land a sustainable career in jazz performance? Quit. If you are looking to pursue a career now, it’s too late. You have to start young and grow into music as you grow into life.