When Miles Davis – one of the most acclaimed and influential figures of 20th century music – told an interviewer in 1969 that “Jazz is an Uncle Tom word” and we should stop using it, he was asked how his sound should be categorized instead. His response was “it’s just music man. We might play anything out there.”

Forty two years later, American trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist, Nicholas Payton, echoed those very same sentiments and reiterated the protest that the term ‘Jazz’ is a label which has been forced upon musicians. A term which holds racist and colonialist roots and is used purely to sell more music. And six weeks ago, Grammy-award nominee, Theo Croker, released the single JAZZ IS DEAD alongside Gary Bartz (introduced on the track as “the elder to tell you all one more time...”) and Kassa Overall. He couldn’t be less bothered about the Grammy nomination by the way, explaining very nonchalantly that he doesn’t believe in an award validating the integrity of music.

A Tribute

Photo by Obidi Nzeribe

JAZZ IS DEAD is a protest against the systems surrounding Jazz – the way that it’s taught, where it’s performed, how it’s marketed, and also a tribute to his heroes, the likes of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker who already stated – Jazz is dead.

“I wanted to write a verse that really explains what is meant by the hyperbole of it [‘jazz is dead’]. Because I think it’s something that should be addressed and talked about. It’s 2022. People are still playing Broadway songs, and they get master’s degrees, and they play Jazz and it’s just not what the music is about at all…”

“I’m acknowledging the ancestors: Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong. They didn’t call their music Jazz. So how dare corporations and other people, or just anybody at all, take the face of any of those people and put it under the name Jazz. It’s just blatant.”

The Punk in Jazz

This frustration is not a new one by any means for musicians, nor for Croker.“I’ve had this attitude towards jazz for most of my life. I just didn’t say anything and now I feel comfortable. My throat chakra’s open. I’m gonna say how I feel now. And I’m not 22. I’m almost 37. I know what I’m talking about at this point. I’m not young but I’m not old. I’ve seen enough of what I’ve seen and I see where I want to go. And now I’ll talk about it. I stayed out of it before.”

Having been brought to Berlin to perform at the XJAZZ! Festival, an event which he found out about from a poster, during a previous visit, he explains that it’s the anti-establishment of it which really appeals to him.“I saw a poster that said XJAZZ!. I was like that’s really cool. It looks punk. And that’s what’s missing from this music, you know, all the suit and tie and proper and studies and education. It’s not what this music is about at all. It can be a part of it. But that ain’t the point of the music. I mean jazz lounges in a hoe house. Like that’s where it came from. That’s what I mean with jazz is dead.”

Love Quantum

‘The big names’ have been a cornerstone in Croker’s work as of late, collaborating with J Cole amongst others. Another of his 2022 releases sees him team up with the remarkable Jill Scott, an artist who in some ways played the soundtrack to his youth. “I’ve been listening to Jill Scott. since I was 11 or 12 years old. She was my father’s favorite RnB singer. And so, if you went on a road trip with my father, if you drove someplace that was three hours away, you would listen to the Jill Scott CD three or four times. I grew up with her sound in my head. And I just knew. My pops would always say to me even back then, ‘One day you and Jill Scott are gonna make music together’. It’s just kind of been manifesting my whole life, so when it finally happened it didn’t feel like ‘oh wow it happened’, it felt more like ‘oh okay this actually happened’. I wasn’t fantasizing, I was manifesting and that’s kind of what the song is actually about”

The track with Jill Scott, To Be We, is a single from upcoming album, Love Quantum. On this album, the material is much lighter and less serious than previous albums. The playful tracks are a reflection of Croker’s life experiences over the past few months.

“It’s about feeling love and experiencing love in different shapes and colors. I’m a romantic but at the same time I’m intense and I’m fun and all over the place and eclectic. And that’s how my albums usually are. They usually display my adventurous, eclectic side. Whereas in Love Quantum, comes from my intimate side. It’s more about my views on intimacy and I’m putting my intimate energy into it. To me, it’s a very romantic album.”

No Limits

The creative processes behind his tracks feel very much intertwined with things going on in his life and current events, but he is cautious about directing music towards specific causes to the point that songs become limited.“As an artist, I do not feel a responsibility to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. That’s not my job, that’s what our elected leaders are for. That’s what they’re supposed to do and they’re supposed to listen to the people. Now, of course, that’s not always the case, and I know that art and music can help. But for me, I like to put my art out there and let it be interpreted and let it help people the way that it is, rather than being directed towards something specific because then it closes off what else it can be”

Theo Croker’s Love Quantum will be released on June 24 via Star People Entertainment.