Although they’ve been a group for a while now, Durham jazz collective Zoocru have been making several big firsts lately. For starters, they released their debut album “Lucid” earlier this summer. And, now, they’re embarking on their first major, nationwide tour. Before they headed off on the road, these twentysomething musicians convened to talk about how Zoocru all began and how far they’ve come.
The group started when drummer Jonathan Curry and keyboardist Howard “Soul” Joyner were freshmen at N.C. Central University in 2009. “We met each other and we were two musicians, but we didn’t really have any other musicians our age to play with,” Curry says. The following year, they got together with bass guitarist Christian Sharp and saxophonist/keyboardist Alex Thompson, who were then freshmen at Central. Remembers Curry, “At that moment, we realized we were like-minded and have the same musical interests.”
This collegiate bond may also explain why they currently share living quarters in Durham. “Four out of five of us actually live together in the same house,” Thompson says.
Between them, Zoocru has played alongside many artists: Branford Marsalis, Christian Scott, Jon Faddis, YahZarah, even Triangle artists like jazz trumpeter Al Strong and R & B vocalist Heather Victoria. But, in these past few years, the guys have focused on making Zoocru a jazz crew worth keeping an eye on. Last year, they launched a Kickstarter page, looking to raise the $10,000 needed to make “Lucid.” (They reached their goal, and got an extra $114.) “All the musicians in the band understand that the most important thing about being a musician is, like, your connection with the people,” says Thompson, explaining the band’s decision to go the crowdfunding route. “Usually, we’ll find, in a lot of situations, different bands – their first go-to is to find some kind of record label or something or some type of company to go to and look for, you know, funding and support. But, for us, the people are first. The people are the ones that are coming out to our shows, listening to the music and stuff. So, their opinions and their contributions matter. So, the Kickstarter was the best route.”
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Zoocru comes with a lot of progressive, jazz-fusion grooves on “Lucid,” which also includes appearances from Strong, rapper/spoken-word artist Dasan Ahanu and rapper Median. There is also a track titled “Redneck Interlude,” which features liberal but down-home musings from Southern YouTuber Dixon White. “We initially heard it on YouTube and took it from the YouTube video,” says guitarist Favret. “What we did was took the audio from the YouTube video and we started playing that during our live show, and we actually never intended it to be on the record. But, as the record process progressed, we decided that it was smart to contact him personally and see if he would be willing to allow us to use that audio.”
So far, the gents have made stops in Atlanta, Brooklyn and New Orleans (and will be hitting North Hollywood for a couple of shows in September). But they will be back on Saturday to perform at 9th Wonder & The Art of Cool Project’s monthly “Caramel City” show at the Pour House. No matter how far they go, Zoocru always returns to the Triangle and gives audiences the best they have to offer.
“We’re trying to transcend jazz for a new generation,” Curry says.
Thompson adds: “Our music is not just for one specific audience. Our music is for all people. We’re all about bringing people together and just accepting differences and understanding different cultures. That’s what we’re about, so our music is for everybody.”